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Board Game Mechanics: Route Building

Posted Tuesday, 20-Oct-2015

Combining competition for space with the satisfaction of building something up, route building board games are huge fun!


Contributed by Andrew Knighton


Though most common in train games, route building is a feature of many board games. There’s a satisfaction to seeing your route stretch out before you – a long line of wooden sticks, plastic trains or cardboard counters whose color shows that you are dominating the board. But this is about more than just building your own line – it’s all about getting the best spot first.


Connecting Meeples Together

The most common sort of route building games are train games, in particular the hugely popular 18XX series. Games such as 1830: Railways and Robber Barons and Age of Steam make you into industrialists laying train tracks across continents, with points and profits often going to those with the longest connections. But there are others too, such as the roads players lay for points in Carcassonne.


Create complex train routes in Age of Steam.
Create complex train routes in Age of Steam.


The routes are laid out in different ways for each game. In Carcassonne you pull random tiles from a bag and must lay the road where you can, whereas in many train games tiles are selected and paid for, and in Trains players must build decks of cards that let them lay out wooden counters for tracks. Settlers of Catan uses wooden sticks bought with resources, Ticket to Ride uses model trains managed through set collection, some games even use crayons or string.

There are as many ways of making a route in board games as in real life.


Why Build the Longest Route?

Sometimes the aim of a game is simply to build the longest routes. In Ticket to Ride, players get points for the connections they make. But in others, the route building serves another purpose.

In the 18XX train games, the aim is profit. Building long routes lets you build up the value of the company, and your profits are based on the value of the shares you own, not just the businesses you control. Route building and stock trading intersect to turn these two elements into something more fascinating than the sum of its parts.


The player with the most profit is the winner at the end of the route building game 1830.
The player with the most profit is the winner at the end of the route building game 1830. (Photo Credit: GamersAlliance.com)


Sometimes the route serves more than one purpose. In Settlers of Catan, you lay roads to reach new construction sites and new resources, but you can also gain victory points for the longest road. This creates interesting dilemmas, such as whether to keep going in one direction, making the longest road possible, or whether to split your efforts to reach the most profitable places.


Competing for Space

Route building games aren’t just about what you can achieve – they’re also about what you can stop others doing. Your journey to Moscow might prevent another player using that route, your road across Catan might block their own intended expansion. It’s this that turns route building games from just people building their own separate lines into a competition between players, a strategic struggle for limited space on the board.


What’s the Appeal of Route Building?

Laying down pretend railway tracks might not sound exciting, but route building can create some incredibly satisfying games. You can see your colored roads or tracks spread across the board, and enjoy taking in the scale of what you’ve built. There’s an instinctive pleasure that comes from building something up, from being able to see what’s going on in the game at a glance, and that’s something at which route building games excel.


Find more Route Building games

Published by BoardGamePrices.com

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