Moving right along with Kickstarter Spotlight #2, we will take a closer look at the currently ongoing campaign for Off the Rails. In this feature, we had the chance to communicate with Andrew Platt of Flippin’ Games, sole creator and artist behind Off the Rails. This is Andrew’s second Kickstarter campaign, with his first game being Flippin’ Fruit, a juicy dice game based on, you guessed it, fruit! While Off the Rails has already met it’s initial pledge goal, there are still Stretch Goals to meet, such as a deluxe jewel bag! From my experience playing games with lots of pieces and tokens (like Arkham Horror), a nice bag for the pieces is invaluable and does well to add to the overall experience of the game. So let’s get rolling in our carts and check out what Off the Rails has to offer.
“Goblins, as you may or may not know, are not a particularly patient, considerate of even generous race. So when vast deposits of riches were discovered in the ground under the Great Plains, the Greenskin clans flooded there, vying to retrieve more treasure than their rival brethren. In their haste, however, the mines they dug and tracks they laid disturbed the fragile foundations of the Plains, causing the ground to collapse into a chasm below, burying Goblins and jewels alike…”
In Off the Rails, players control one of four clans of Goblin miners who recently heard of untold riches discovered underneath the Great Plains. Each clan has their own unique backstory and leader, but all share the common goal of raiding the mines of all the jewels and gold they can get their grubby, green-skinned mitts on. However, it’s not just a game of mundane digging, it’s a game of strategic tile-placement, cart maneuvering, and quick thinking as the mines collapse, swallowing up any unfortunate carts, Goblins and jewels that fail to reach the surface in time! Though players directly control the placement of tracks and the movement of mine-carts, the cards provided in the game contribute an unpredictable element to the game, including the dreaded beginning of The Chasm.
OFF THE RAILS GOES OFF THE RAILS
The initial launch of Off the Rails was on August 8th, and at the time of this writing, there are about 11 days left to go. Andrew’s primary funding goal has been met, but as mentioned above, there are still numerous Stretch goals to reach. In the time it took to get this article completed, several more Stretch goals have been added and subsequently reached. Andrew is continually devising further Stretch goals as previous ones are met, so stay tuned to his Kickstarter campaign and/or social media feeds to learn more as it develops.
For the last 2+ years, Andrew has been play-testing, designing the artwork, and establishing a community of gamers in support of Off the Rails. Andrew has a full-time job as a professional artist and animator for an educational resource, so the last 2 years developing this game have been nothing short of a daunting task which no-doubt required considerable personal resources. Simply managing a Kickstarter campaign is a full-time endeavor, not to mention the mountains of work that goes into creating the project itself.
Andrew, however, already has endured a ton of leg-work, resulting in the beautiful, well thought-out project you see before you. Based on the videos on the campaign page for Off the Rails (links at top and bottom of this article), the pieces are just as easy to handle as they are good-looking. The ergonomic design of the mine-carts is especially neat, with a short video on the How To Play section of the website demonstrating how very simple it is to alter the speed of a mine-cart by manipulating the dice inside the cart.
THE GRITTY DETAILS
The object of Off the Rails is to be the Goblin clan with the highest point total at the end, with points awarded for collecting jewels and gold. Included in the game are also some objective cards which offer additional points upon completion of the objective. One example of an objective would be to drop-off 4 Rubies at the surface in a single-go. Additional points are rewarded for other factors, such as mine-carts that made it out before being claimed victim by the ever-growing Chasm. It is much harder than it sounds, as mine-carts can collide with each other forcing a change of direction, spilling jewels out or leading to derailment entirely. Additionally, there are mundane rocks mixed in with the precious rocks, which must be picked up first before getting the chance to collect any gems. Rocks are worth zero points and take up valuable cart space, so strategic mine-cart navigation is a core element to the game-play.
Each turn, the players will perform up to 4 actions such as adjusting mine-cart speed or placing track-tiles. Track tiles come in a few varieties, with straight tracks, corner tracks, 3-way and 4-way junctions. Existing tracks can be upgraded as play progresses around the board, however the number of “exits” on each tile can never decrease. Tiles cannot be downgraded, only upgraded, so tactical tile-placement is key to success. Not only do you have to get in and collect jewels without derailing, you must make your way back to the surface by reaching any edge of the board.
At the end of each players’ turn, a Deposit Card is drawn which contains instructions for how to place a new jewel deposit. The instructed number of jewels, drawn randomly from the bag, are placed on the corresponding location on the board. This means that your desired path and plans can change numerous times before your next turn. It is also especially important that players keep mental notes on which gems are in the bag in order to determine what the most effective strategy will be to claim the most valuables. The deck of deposit cards has a specific structure and establishment, as detailed in the rules, and the way this deck is constructed at the start of each game not only assures that each play-through will see a lot of variety, but that each color of deposit sees a roughly equal amount of activity. There should be an equal number of Deposit Cards of each color, per game, so this avoids any situations where jewels spawn primarily in one place for an entire game. The overall number of cards used dictates how many turns will take place before The Chasm, the end-game event, begins.
Collisions and derailments will play a large role in the game for a variety of reasons. For these reasons, strategic crashing of carts will be integral to the success of your jewel-hauling efforts. Each mine-cart piece has a pointed front indicating the direction that cart is travelling. A collision with any cart, even your own, will result in both carts being forced to change direction. A complete 180-degree turn occurs when possible, with the owner of the mine-cart choosing the direction in the case of a crash at a 3-way T-junction. Each collision will be caused by one player – the Active player, with their victim being the Opposing player. It is possible that both of these are the same player, as each Goblin clan commands up to 2 mine-carts each. This is very significant when factoring in the limited amount of diamonds and gold, the two most valuable gems (in order). Crashing into a cart and (with luck) forcing the drop of valuable gems can cause the return of these to the bag for future deposit placement and of course, harming your opponents’ ability to score points!
Derailments occur in one of three ways, which results in all gems (if any) that cart was carrying returning to the jewel bag. Empty carts involved in collisions, Active and Opposing, derail and return to the controlling-player’s stockpile of carts. If a mine-cart moves across two track-tiles whose paths do not connect, that cart derails, ALL its carried gems return to the bag and that cart returns to the stockpile. The last, and perhaps scariest, form of derailment occurs when a mine-cart occupies the same space as a Chasm Token, which appear on the board during the final event.
GET YOUR ROCKS OFF!
The Chasm is the beginning of the end triggered by the Chasm Card, and signifies the collapse of the mines under the Great Plains due to the reckless abandon of the harvesting Goblin clans. There is one more normal round of play, with each player generating one final deposit each, as done in previous turns. Part of the Deposit Deck is set aside at the start of the game specifically for the start of this event. Each card in this area contains the same instructions for placing jewels as the other cards, except Chasm Tokens of the appropriate color are placed instead. Everything on those tiles, gems and tracks, falls into the endless darkness. This represents the monumental collapse of the mines, and grows each turn until no carts are left on the board or all Chasm Tokens are exhausted – whichever comes first! Anything left on the board, thus not on the surface, plummets into the unknown darkness of The Chasm, never to be seen again. Any derailments occurring during the event causes the loss of that cart and all its contents. Carts themselves are worth points, so even getting an empty cart out before total collapse is beneficial. This makes for an exciting, panicked finish for every game while also creating another layer of strategy. Do you simply vacate the mines, or go for a last-second delve into the depths to rack up points in the end? If you think you’ve got the lead, you can even just seek out the destruction of your enemies. Even a cart full of rocks holds value as it can be used to cause mayhem!
The victor is decided by tallying up the values of jewels that made it to the surface, mine-carts that survived The Chasm event, and a couple of other variables including completed objectives from mission cards. Whoever has the most points at the end is declared the winner. Only the jewels and carts that make it to the surface and into each clan stockpile are the ones that count. Victims of the chasm are soon forgotten as the survivors haul away their spoils.
The game is intended for 4 players, but 2 or 3 can play with rules for a solo-game on the way. Alternate rules for two players, including random Chasm Token placement, make it a much more entertaining experience when additional players can’t be acquired. As mentioned above, the Deposit Deck’s construction is influenced by the number of players, keeping games from taking much longer than desired.
This game would be perfect for families, though you may want to keep this out of the hands of anyone under 10-12, as small pieces could easily be swallowed (12+ recommended by game). I would personally advise finding something to conceal the gems in the inevitable events of collisions and the splitting of gems that occurs, and it will likely prevent the accidental dropping of jewel pieces. This could be as simple as just covering the divided gem piles, or if you’re feeling crafty you could construct your own concealments. A simple, small cardboard box would work just fine. This will also aid those whose hands shake or are just plain clumsy (like me).
It should be evident from the art, game mechanics and well-constructed Kickstarter page that a great deal of effort has gone into Off the Rails over the 2 years it’s been developed and tested. If you’re even remotely interested in Off the Rails, do not hesitate to back the project. There are still several Stretch goals to be reached, and more are added as more are reached! You can rest assured knowing that your support has been given to someone who is not only professional, but has put an incredible amount of work and resources into this project. Most of all, you can tell that Andrew Platt cares about making an exciting, new experience for gamers, and this is truly a labor of love.
Written by Jacob Walsh, published 8/22/2017
Re-use or redistribution of this article, in part or in full, through any type of website, written publication or other medium is forbidden without express, written consent from Jacob Walsh, operator of AroundtheBoard.com
Off the Rails and all picture assets used for this article are property of Andrew Platt, and have been used with his permission.