Thirty individuals played in ten total heat games in 2023. Despite the low attendance, there was a wide range of scores throughout the two scheduled heats. It’s interesting how different the scores are considering that the only variance from game to game are the available engineers available and the preferred strategy of whomever you have sat down to play with. The field ranged from people that had attended the demo to learn how to play, through various levels of experience all the way up to several past finalists and former champions. The numbers reflect just how different each game truly was and show that you really don’t know quite what you can expect when beginning a play of Russian Railroads.
Two players eclipsed the 500 point barrier in the heats. Dan Elkins scored 528, and Sam Wolf scored an eye popping 552. Roger Jarrett, the only double winner in heats, had the lowest winning score at 412 and also the third highest winning score at 467. The margin of victory varied wildly, too. The closest game was settled by a mere 5 points between WBC heavyweights David Platnick and Allan Jiang with David the winner. The largest win belonged to Sam Wolff and his gargantuan 552 score with a 232 point margin over second place.
As there were only 30 unique players, 16 players couldn’t be legally advanced to the Semifinal. Instead, there were three Semifinal games of four players each.
In the first Semifinal game, Dominic Blais won a close ten point game over Aaron Blair. This would prove to be the closest second, and Aaron would join Dominic in the final. In the second Semifinal, Patrick Maguire bested defending champion Allan Jiang by 32 and ended Allan’s title defense. In the third Semifinal, Nick Henning bested David Platnick by 40 points to claim the last spot in the final.
In the final, Nick Henning and Aaron Blair raced to get an extra worker out in round one. Patrick Maguire went to work moving the industry marker, monopolizing the industry actions. After round one, the scores were tight, but Patrick had opened with a small lead: Patrick 12, Dominic 7, Nick 5, and Aaron 3.
In round two, everyone was trying to set their engine up and it was clear that Patrick and Nick would be working the Kiev and industry tracks, while Dominic and Aaron would be working on the Trans-Siberian track. In Russian Railroads, the Kiev-industry players typically jump out to a lead, and their goal is to build up enough of a lead that by the end of the game, the Trans-Siberian track players can’t overcome them when they start scoring really big points in the last few rounds. Which strategy would prevail was yet to be seen. Scores after round two were: Patrick 35, Nick 21, Dominic 15, and Aaron 10.
In round three, players started taking bonus tokens. Which bonuses you select is a big part of the strategy in Russian Railroads, and each player had their own idea about what was best to start out with. Aaron took one first, the bonus card that gives you an extra worker that allows extra moves with black rails. Dominic was the next to claim a bonus, the engineer that allows two moves on any track. Nick would also take a bonus in this round, the level nine locomotive. All three of these players also got to select a bonus scoring card that’s kept secret until the end of the game. After round three, the scores were: Patrick 65, Nick 52, Dominic 32, and Aaron 23.
Patrick finally earned a bonus token in round four, his second industry marker. He also bought his third engineer of the game on this turn, taking a commanding lead in the race to earn 40 bonus points for most engineers at game’s end. After round four: Nick 100, Patrick 99, Dominic 67, and Aaron 46.
Round five saw Nick take the +20 point marker for the Kiev line. This provides a big boost to his score each round as in the previous round he had score 45. Aaron took the bonus that allowed him to move any four rails. He had been trailing a bit and this boost has the potential to kick his late round Trans-Siberian strategy into another gear. After round five: Nick 172, Patrick 149, Dominic 128, and Aaron 112.
In round six, the penultimate round, the urgency to get round end points goes up. The Kiev-industry players had built substantial leads, and the Trans-Siberian players needed to begin making up ground now if they wanted to win the game. Aaron took the +5 industry bonus, and Dominic took the advanced track score doubler. Patrick finally took a bonus card along with moving his industry marker up a couple of places. He was also setting himself up to score his engineers, possibly twice, since he had two industry markers. He also took the +20 point marker on his Kiev track. After round six: Patrick 265, Nick 257, Dominic 223, and Aaron 218.
Going into the final round, most players were trying to finish the last few moves they had planned and many black rail lines reached the end for +10 points each, engineers were scored, and points were found where available. It was tight going into final scoring. After round seven: Patrick 403, Nick 391, Dominic 355, and Aaron 348.
Nick scored 21 points for the card that gives you seven points for each bonus marker you have earned. Dominic scored 15 points for his bonus card. Aaron scored 30 points for having all 3 extra workers and appeared ready to earn 40 points for the most workers on the tie breaker of having the highest valued engineer over Patrick. To everyone’s surprise, Patrick revealed that his bonus card was an extra engineer, giving him the 40 point bonus instead of Aaron, leaving Aaron with 20 points for second place. The final scores were: Patrick Maguire 443, Nick Henning 412, Aaron Blair 398, and Dominic Blais 370
Everyone had played a great game, and Patrick came through in the end to claim the Russian Railroads 2023 championship. As a GM, it was my even greater pleasure to hear we had all just witnessed Patrick’s very first WBC championship. A big “Congratulations!” goes out to not only a strong player and deserving champion, but a remarkably gentle and pleasant person.
Hopefully, Russian Railroads will be back in 2024, and I hope to see previous players and new ones, too!