Game Name: Trains
Designer: Hisashi Hayashi
Artist: Ryo Nyamo
Year: 2013 (Originally released by Japon Brand in 2012)
Category: Family friendly, deck-building, modern railway game
Players: Two to four players
Playing Time: 45 minutes
One of the titles which essentially flew out of the AEG booth (or maybe I should say chugged) at this year’s Gen Con is Trains. Originally released by Japon Brand in 2012, we now have a second beefed up edition from our friends at Alderac Entertainment Group. While you may be stifling a yawn with the mention of a new deck building game let me assure you by saying once you get your hands on Trains you may find your other deck builders spending a lot more time on the shelf as this new release is sure to become one of your favorites!
Trains is part of AEG’s Big in Japan line of games, as they look to bring titles deserving of attention to the English speaking world. If this deck builder is any indication of what we can expect in the future be forewarned, you wallet is going to be a lot emptier.
One of the first things you’ll notice about Trains is how heavy the box is as it’s filled with over 500 cards, a game board, wooden tokens, and more. You won’t find a lot of air in this box folks! Looking through all of the components you find the usual quality we can expect from AEG and the card art especially is nicely presented.
I’ll admit I’m not the biggest railroading fan out there as much of the popularity of the 18xx genre is sort of lost on me. No, I’m not knocking the genre but simply saying I just can’t seem to really get into it even though there have been some games I have liked quite a bit in the past (Baltimore & Ohio for one). One of the biggest selling points of Trains, after playing, is even though the game is dripping with theme you don’t have to be a fan of railroading games to dig it.
As with all deck building games, you’ll have a core of cards which will be available every time you play as well as additional randomly selected decks of cards so each playthrough is unique. All told there are 39 decks of cards. The rules consist of twelve brisk pages and it only takes a few minutes to teach someone the basics; all the strategies you’ll look to employ, on the other hand, will only become apparent through multiple plays. Most of the set up time is devoted to randomizing the decks you’ll be using and placing everything in their correct locations.
Every time you play you be using the Express Train, Limited Express Train, Lay Rails, Station Expansion, Apartment, Tower, Skyscraper, and Waste decks. Added to these will be eight random decks which include things such as Tunnel, Landfill, Tourist Train, Holiday Time Table, and so on. As with nearly all deck builders, each player will begin with a starter deck consisting of weaker cards which you’ll look to expand upon as quickly as possible. Although you’ll want to add more powerful cards your starting cards hold value so you’re not necessarily looking to thin your deck since those beginning cards hold value.
An aspect of Trains which is unique is the inclusion of Waste cards. As you lay track, build stations, buy victory point cards you’ll acquire Waste. These cards are simply nothing cards; they don’t give you any sort of positive or negative benefits but as you continue to add the mto your deck you’ll find yourself more and more hamstrung during your turn. Thankfully there are ways to remove Waste from your hand and occasionally you’ll effectively trade a turn to dump the Waste in your hand out of you deck.
Play begins with each player drawing a hand of five cards and selecting an acceptable starting point to place your first rail token.
During a player’s turn you may play or purchase as many cards as you can. The only limitation is the fact you have to finish whatever action you’re performing before moving to the next action. As an example you could play a Lay Rails card (causing you to take a Waste card to add to your gained cards) and then dropping a new rail token on the board, play an Express Train card (gaining two points of money), play a Tourist Train card (gaining another point of money as well as a Victory Point), play a second Lay Rails card (performing the required actions again), play a Limited Express Train card (gaining another three points of money), and finishing up by buying a Dump Site card for five cash (while the leftover point of money is lost).
It’s important to note laying rails can have a cost associated with it as the terrain can boost the amount of money you’ll need to spend. Using the cards played above let’s say the two rail tokens being played were going into a mountain area and a remote city with a value of four. In that case the six points of cash would be spent laying the rails (two for the mountains and four for the city) so the player wouldn’t have been able to buy the Dump Site card.
Once you’ve finished playing and buying cards you’ll take the cards you gained (as in the previous example it would be the two Waste cards and Dump Site card) as well as any cards which were left in your hand into the discard pile. Of course once you run out of cards in your deck you’ll be reshuffling all the discards together to reset your deck. After you’ve added cards to the discard pile, you’ll draw a new hand of five cards and then the next player’s turn will begin.
Victory Points can be gained through cards you play (the Tourist Train is the only card currently available which does this), stations you’ve built in cities where you have a rail line, cards you’ve purchased which hold an end game VP value, and finally the value of a remote city which is connected with your rail tokens.
The game continues until one of the following takes place: Any four stacks of cards from the Supply are exhausted; one player runs out of rail tokens; all station tokens have been used. Once this takes place each player will total all their VPs and the high scorer is declared “King of the Rails.” In the case of a tie the player with the most rail tokens wins and if there’s still a tie then it’s a shared victory.
I’ve found Trains to be one of the best deckbuilders I’ve ever encountered. The rules are well presented and after a read through you’re pretty much set to play as you won’t find anything too vague. For those who find playing most deckbuilding games to resemble gaming in a vacuum I certainly recommend giving Trains a go as there’s plenty of interaction. This is due to the mechanics involved in the board as players will devise strategies in which to make life more difficult in areas the other railway owners are looking to build.
I can’t claim to have come up with any particular strategies which will lead to a string of victories with Trains and I find it interesting that players can take many approaches in order to finish up as the King titleholder. I can say Trains is a blast and everyone I’ve played the game with came away enjoying it quite a lot as well. I began by mentioning I’ve never been a serious railroading gamer, and neither are many of my pals, but Trains is a whole lot of fun which will appeal to gamers of all stripes.
I will mention if you’re a fan of Dominion then Trains is a must buy as it does share some things in common with that popular deckbuilder. If you’re like me and feel Dominion is simply an alright game, I think Trains is still a extremely fun since it completely avoids my biggest issue of “vacuum gaming” while providing good, challenging play. If you really can’t stand Dominion (or any other deckbuilder) you might still even want to give Trains a try because its not the same old same old, but take my opinion for what it’s worth; if the genre isn’t your bag it’s just not your bag.
For me Trains falls into that must buy category for nearly all gamers as they’ll soon find this may become their deck builder of choice and I’ll surely be looking forward for whatever expansions AEG has coming down the pike.