I just got a game of Trains in with my wife for the first time. She’s a big fan of deck building games, while I enjoy a more tactical board game. This is a perfect marriage. Total success! To be honest with only 2 players I want smaller boards. The game pieces are so small though, so I can totally custom make a 2 player board on a single 8.5 by 11.
For those of you who haven’t played trains yet, I’ll give you a quick run down. Trains is a deck building game in a similar vein of Dominion, but without the single buy/single action restrictions.
In addition to attempting to build a decent purchase power/victory point engine, you are creating train routes on a hex grid map. You can spend your purchase power and play rail cards to lay down tracks, or play train station cards to well, lay down train stations. If you have a rail in a city that has a station in it you get victory points to add to what you have in your deck.
This board game mechanic can add a whole lot of player interaction. Multiple players can have rails in the same hex sharing any points awarded for said hex. But for each rail and station in a hex, any addition rails being built are more expensive to build. In a 3 or 4 player game this becomes very tactical. In a two player game if you build close enough to each other, this becomes very “screw your neighbor”ish.
The things that really drive this game home for me, is the strategy involved. See, in Dominion, its often very obvious which is the best cards to buy, and the rest never get touched. The reason this game is different is because when you build a rail, or a station, or buy victory point cards, you also gain a waste card. This card does nothing other than fill your deck with waste. There are a few cards that can help get rid of your waste, and a rule that allows you to forgo you whole turn in order to remove all the waste cards in your hand.
What this all means is, you get a huge advantage by being the first to build out a route. However by jumping ahead you are ruining your deck in a hurry. Also do you go for high victory point cards or build into a new city? Do you spend that purchase power to get more purchase power, or more rails and station cards lessening the chance of having enough purchase power when you need it. On top of this, there are lots of cool action cards that are pretty different from most other typical deck builders.
The point is, this game is more than the sum of its parts. Adding a tactical grid map to a deck builder adds a depth of strategy that lies not only in the additional multiple paths to victory, but also is a byproduct of so many hard choices in how you can can best achieve them. However, in spite of all this, it never feels like a brain burner. I think this stems from the fact that it is very well balanced. You can tell a lot of time was taken to get Trains to feel just right.
To top this all off, I have to say that the graphic design here is really really nice. It actually looks a lot like a Cryptozoic deck builder in how the cards are laid out. The card abilities fit their names very thematically, even the waste mechanic supports the theme. With industrial expansion comes more pollution, and that can really ruin things.
The game comes with a double sided map one side the Kyoto region and the other Tokyo. There is a Gencon indy map that covers the Midwest. Like I said before, it would be super easy to make custom maps, or for AEG to release map expansions ala Powergrid. The game comes with something like 30 sets of action cards of which you only ever use 8 at a time, so there is tons of re-playability. The box is made to fit several expansions as well. Really nice box control layout as well I might add
All in all I really really love this game, and think a majority of you will too.
This review was written by Andrew Christopher Enriquez, co-host and producer of The Nerd Nighters. You can find him on Twitter @cedeliing and online in the DFW Nerd Night Facebook Group.