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Board Game Review – Trains

aeg5801If you look carefully at the new AEG deck-builder called Trains, you can almost see the designer’s mental process at work. It may have sounded a little like this:

“I want to make a game, and I want to be able to sell it to someone. So what are some things that sell? Deck-building games sell. OK, what else? Train games are always big. So a deck-building game about trains! Hmm, what else… used panties in vending machines? Hey, now we’re talking!”

(Of course, the designer of Trains was Japanese, and thus thought vending machines selling soiled undergarments sounded like a good idea. Alderac is not Japanese, and so decided to remove the dirty drawers from the game, and they also took the vending machines out of the break rooms, to the gratitude of most of the employees and the consternation of the one dirty old Japanese employee who now had to buy all his used underwear from eBay.)

Basically, Trains is what happens when you take Dominion and cross-breed it with Railroad Tycoon. Since I love Railroad Tycoon and still think Dominion is a playable game (although at this point, there are way too many great deck-building games to bother with Dominion), I was pretty sure I was going to like Trains. And I was right!

Trains combines the timing, maneuvering, planning and tactics of a rail-building board game with the deck-building of, well, a deck-building game. And the neat thing is that while the two parts interact, you don’t have to do one or the other to win. Well, I mean, you probably ought to do something, but you can focus on building a wicked deck instead of expanding your train system, and win that way, or you can become a railroad magnate and not worry about scoring out of your deck. If you don’t try to score points anywhere, it might be that you should quit obsessing over the chick-skivvy vending machines.

You’ve got a few basic cards in Trains. The most basic card is a train (which is appropriate), and when your trains run, you make money which you can use to buy more trains. Or you can use that money to play the card that lets you build tracks, and set up new lines that go into big neighborhoods. You can play the card that lets you build a train station where your trains can stop, and that makes them worth more at the end of the game. And then you’ve got waste, which is not human waste, because this is a family game (yet another reason there’s no dirty underwear). No, waste cards are just garbage you accumulate when you build, which you will do very often, and these cards don’t cost you points, but they sure do pile up fast.

Then there are the complicated cards, the ones that are really fun to play. There’s the card that lets you choose from a list of options, or the one that you can throw away for a one-time big cash payout. You’ve got your expensive luxury trains that earn extra income, and the cards that let you send your garbage to the landfill so you can get it out of your deck. There are lots of other cards that do cool stuff, but they’re randomized because that tends to be how deck-building games work these days.

So you score points in Trains by building a bad-ass railroad that goes through all the hot spots of the city (as determined by the location of questionable vending machines, oh, and railroad stations), or you get points by owning real estate that you buy on cards. At the end of the game, you have to add up both, so you could decide to get richer than God and buy all the luxury condos or you could just stretch your train from one side of the board to the other in a race for transportational supremacy.

The result of this gaming amalgam is a lovely fusion of deck-building and track-building. You’ll have to buy the cards you need to create the strategy you intend to use to win – get money cards to buy real estate, or track-laying cards to expand your empire, or station cards to make your cities more valuable. There are lots of different ways to get to the finish line, and no one strategy is definitely superior. I like being able to play the game the way I want to play it.

Unfortunately, the game I want to play has me blowing up the other guy’s train tracks, stealing his cities from him, and sabotaging his high-rise apartments so that they smell like feet. Trains has virtually no interaction, which frankly, I don’t like as much. Points off for not letting me set up blockades, create sinkholes, and ruin local economies for my own personal gain. I really like Trains – this is one of the most interesting deck-building games I’ve played – but it won’t be my favorite just because there’s not enough messing with your friends.

The lack of interaction, to be honest, is not a huge deal. Trains is really a very fun game. I hope there are lots of expansions, and I know I’ll be playing it again. And I hope that there’s a version published in Japan that includes a card where you can put undergarment vending machines in your train stations, if only to appease the unfortunate designer who was not able to publish the game the way he wanted it.

Summary

2-4 players

Pros:
Cool train art
Combines the best of deck-building and train games
Lots of variable strategies
A wide selection of good cards to choose from

Cons:
Very limited interaction

One of these days I need to ask Coolstuff Inc to give me a few bucks in store credit. God knows I link to them enough.

TRAINS, CHEAP

DISCLAIMER: While I did have considerable fun at Japan’s expense regarding the underwear vending machines, I do not have any information that the designer of Trains has any affiliation with, or affinity for, soiled undergarments. But Japan really does have those. I did not make up that part.

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