Friday, May 1, 2015

Game Review: Trains

One of the board games that I bought on sort of a whim, recently, after just a little bit of research was the board game Trains.  Amazon had the game at $30 which is an excellent price point for this type of game. 

Number of players: 2-4
Style of game: Deck-building and tile placing
Set-up time:  3-5 minutes
Playtime: 45 minutes for 2 players
End game/counting points: 5 minutes
Complexity (1-10): 5 (average)
Category: Non-essential, good addition

How to play: Like most deck-building games, there is a common set of cards that are used that everyone can purchase and there is a common set of cards that you always play. In this game, there are eight cards that are used every game and then eight random cards are added to the game, as well.  The eight cards that are used every game are the treasure cards (Express Train and Limited Express train), the victory cards (Apartments, Tower, and Skyscraper), the basic action cards (Lay Rails and Station Expansion) and the filler card (Waste).  

At the start of the game, you receive 10 cards, 7 normal trains (worth 1 coin each), 2 Lay Rails cards, and 1 Station Expansion.  Additionally, you place one railroad tile on the board where you want to start your rails.  You can start anywhere on the board except in the remote locations or in the sea.  Throughout the course of the game, to lay a rail token, you will need to lay them adjacent to one of your existing rail tokens so it is slightly important where you place your starting rail token.
Your turn contains a lot more options than traditional deck-building games, i.e. Dominion.  It is almost completely based off of what cards that you have in your hand.  You can play cards from your hand, lay rails, insert a station expansion, buy cards from the supply, or pass.  To lay rails, you must have a lay rails card or a green card to be able to play.  In order to play a lay rails card, you do have to gain a waste card from the supply.  This fills as a filler card that clutters up your deck.  The other green cards that allow you to lay rails help mitigate the costs associated with laying rails.  A station expansion card allows you to build a station expansion in a city.  This is important because at the end of the game, you score points based on having station expansions and a rail token in the city.  Buying cards from the supply is pretty self-explanatory.  Unlike Dominion and other similar deck-building games, you are not limited to just one buy but can buy as many cards from the supply as you can afford.  The same goes for the number of actions you take.  It is completely based off of the cards you have in your hand.  This can be freeing for some who felt that Dominion stifles your turns a bit.

Passing during your turn allows you to return all of the “Waste” cards to the waste supply deck and ends your turn.  This helps to clean up your deck a little bit so that you don’t consistently have waste taking up space in your hand.

The game goes around in turns until all of the station expansion tiles have been placed, all of a single player’s rail tiles have been placed, or 4 card piles from the supply have been depleted.  At the end of the game, you add up your points with the victory cards (yellow cards), your rails to remote locations (the point total is the number in the star), and your city expansions (1 city expansion is 2 points, 2 city expansions is 4 points, and 3 city expansions is 8 points).  The highest point total wins. 
Review/strategy: To start, I’m a big fan of deck building games.  Dominion is probably my favorite game.  I do like the added strategy of laying rails as part of a deck-building style game.  Unlike in Dominion, where your focus is trying to buy as many victory cards as possible, in Trains you have to combine adding victory cards with laying rails and station expansion to maximize your total number of points.  This changes your strategy a little bit so that you need to buy “Lay Rails” cards and “Station Expansion” cards so that you can lay your rails and create station expansions in the cities.  There is a balancing act of trying to buy enough of those cards to perform the necessary actions, the cards that will help you purchase more cards, and the victory cards that makes the game challenging and fun.

Unfortunately, for me, I am not very good at this game. My girlfriend has beaten me pretty soundly each time we have played (I think 4-5 times so far).  Her strategy, for the most part, has been to focus on buying cards that will help her purchase more cards (but not focusing as much on currency cards) at the beginning and trying to load up on victory cards later in the game.  While she does lay rails, her strategy has been to go to cities where I already have expanded my stations and place her rails there to split the points with me.  Typically, at the end of the game I score much more than her when we add up the points for the city expansions and remote regions.  However, she does so much better than me with the victory cards that she ends up winning decisively.  So, there’s my warning: don’t ignore the victory cards!

The game itself is easy to learn and the rules are clearly written.  It probably took about 15 minutes to learn how to play and we played our first game within an hour.  Some portions of the rules are not clearly written but are pretty easy to figure out as you play.  With an eight month old baby, we’ve definitely gravitated to easier to learn games and have started to slightly overrate games that are simpler to learn.  The only real complaints about the game that I can think of are the rail tiles are just circular tokens instead of trains (very petty) and that the inside of the box is not set up Dominion style where the cards can be set easily in the box with little work.

I haven’t played the game enough to be able to rate this game with any certainty, as I do with the other games on the list, but it is still a good addition to anyone who owns the essential games that I list. 

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