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Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Trains

For a long time Dominion was one of my go to games, when it first came out we played a lot but without expansions it simply loses its charm after a lot of plays. Then I got into Thunderstone and instantly took to it because of the way more exciting theme and less solitaire gameplay. However owning Thunderstone and 2 expansions put me off from reinvesting into Advance and for some reason classic Thunderstone takes a few plays to understand the strategy / rules. Where is all this going? Well the next stop was my discovery of deckbuilding / board hybrids and let me tell you they blow old deckbuilding games right off the table. Trains from AEG is simply fantastic and although I've burned two different groups out on it I would gladly play Trains any time of the day. What makes it so great / addicting? I will go over how to play Trains, then explain my thoughts on how it plays with 2, 3 and 4 players.

Trains AEG

Objective: Similar to Dominion and most other games your goal is to have the most Victory Points when the game ends. Trains gives you more options than a traditional deckbuilder, you can score points via cards, or two different ways on the gameboard. This immediately gives you room to experiment with different strategies and my first few games I spent trying out your options to see what gives you the biggest edge.
Victory Point Cards
Deckbuilding Portion: There are two things to keep in mind when playing Trains vs other deckbuilders.

First there are no limitations to the number of cards you can play in a turn, instead you must collect a waste card (explained in detail later) when you play any card with the recycle symbol, these are typically found on cards that let you place pieces onto the game board.

Secondly there are no limitations to the number of cards you can buy/play on your turn (other than their cost) if you can afford to buy 6 cards you can buy 6 cards.
Cost is located in the top right corner of all cards in a red circle. 

Let's cover the different types of cards starting with the unfamiliar ones.

Station Expansion Cards: These cards allow you to place train stations onto any city on the game board, you do not have to have a railway constructed in the city. There is no $ cost associated with the construction of a Train Station, however you do have to collect one waste card.


Train Stations Explained: If Railways are your bread then Stations are your butter, your railways are worth no points if they are not in a city that has 0 Train Stations. Each city depicts a specific number of skyscrapers, these indicate the number of Stations allowed to be built inside that city. At the end of the game, 1 station is worth 2 VP, 2 stations are worth 4 VP and 3 stations are worth 8 VP. Any Station that has your railway marker in it will score you points regardless of who constructed the Station.
In this example Green would score 10 Victory Points.
Blue and Yellow would both score 4 Victory Points.
Lay Rails Trains Starting Card AEGThat sounds like a pretty sweet deal how can I get my trains to go through cities occupied by opponents? Its actually quite a simple process but I will need to cover the basics of laying rails.

The green cards allow you to place your Railway tokens (cubes) onto the gameboard on any space adjacent to one of your other Railways, some of them will give you discounts based on where you are constructing your Railway for example the Tunnel card makes it cheaper to build through mountains. Each time you play a green card you will be required to take a waste card. Playing the green card is not enough to build a network of railroads though and you will need to bring financial support depending on where you wish to place your cubes. Here is a breakdown of the costs:






River = 1$
Mountain = 2$
City = 1 + # of Stations
Remote Location = $ = to the number inside the star
Opponents' Railroads = $ = number of railroad tokens + gain 1 waste.
Field = Free
The Yellow and Black striped lines may never be crossed.
If the Yellow player was starting their turn in Amagasaki and they wanted to connect to Umeda they would need:
Two Green cards allowing the Yellow player to place two railway cubes on the board, and a total of 4$.


These would be the two Rail Laying cards Yellow wants on their turn.
Their only cost would be gaining two waste.

The mountains sort of look like forests, they cost an additional 2$ to place a railway.
Assuming the Blue Player started in Oji and wanted to connect to Kashiwara in 1 turn they would need to play:
Two green cards that allow the Blue player to place railway onto the board and a total of 4$.

Looks like laying railways can get expensive pretty fast, how do you get money? By playing Train cards of course! Each Train Card has a numbered value inside a golden circle in the top left corner, these work like copper/silver/gold in Dominion but lots of them also come with a special text ability that range from gaining additional money if conditions are met to removing waste cards from your hand. I especially like this because it gets rid of that boring startegy from Dominion where you just continue to buy and upgrade your copper-gold cards.
The symbol choice is a bit strange and doesn't match up thematically, I want to call them dollars but usually end up paying for my railways in gold coins.

Then we add action cards to the mix, these are the red cards. They allow you to do cool things ranging from drawing more cards to gaining additional money or removing waste. Remember there are no limits to the number of action cards you can play on a turn, this lets you create some pretty cool combos. More than having the ability to play numerous action cards, I prefer the way they are designed in Trains versus any other deckbuilder I have tried. How are they different? I think they are much more interesting, a lot of them offering you choice or the ability to combo with other cards of other types.

Click Here For Example Action Cards.


Waste Cards: Think of these as victory point cards in Dominion, except that they are worth no points. When you draw them you simply get screwed and have 1(or more) less usable card that hand. Lots of cards force you to take waste and fewer allow you to get rid of it but you can always skip an entire turn to remove all the waste in your hand from your deck.

Game End: The game ends when one of the following conditions is met.

One player entirely depletes their supply of Railway Tokens.
The stock of Train Stations runs out.
4 different stacks of cards available for purchase have no cards left.

If any of these conditions are met the game ends immediately and players count score.

My Thoughts:

In case you still need it spelled out, Trains is far superior to most games I own, it takes a lot of known mechanics and intertwine them in a way that hasn't been done before. I have played well over 50 games now and tried many times with each # of players. Here are my thoughts and observations on how Trains plays with 2/3/4.

Two Player: At first two player trains seems a lot like Dominion or other deckbuilders, just a Race to get the most points. However with only 2 players I found that you get to build your routes more and place more pieces onto the board, I also found that there are more than a few different approaches you can take to the 2 player game. My go to 2 player strategy is to focus on building lots of $ at first and then lots of Railway card once the other player has built up some stations, you can piggy back off their points and use your high $ value to pick up a couple Skyscrapers before the game ends. I found that more often than not, a players supply of Railways will be the reason for the game's end.

Three Player: Three player was not very fun when we first started playing. It is very easy to end up with a Kingmaker situation where two players will be investing in stealing each other's points while one player can simply construct an extremely well thought out efficient route that scores a lot of points. After about 10 plays though three player Trains became my favourite, if everyone knows what they are doing it is really intense, trying to piggyback points and get an edge over your opponents, with three players I like how there is variance in each player's strategy and I like the length that the game ends. With three players you have the ability to speed up the game and bring it to an end quickly if you are in the lead, you are also easily able to prolong the game a bit to catch up, most importantly when your game ends you will want to play again. You get to see your strategy come to life but not entirely flourish and while playing you got to see the magnitude of other strategies at your disposal.

Four Player: At first I hated 4 player Trains, I thought wow this ends way too fast, then I really enjoyed it for a few plays thinking wow these are the closest games points wise and therefore must be the best way to play. My opinion is close to where it was at the start now, with 4 players unless someone is using a strictly card strategy it always ends too quickly. I think the reason the scores are close together is not because the 4 player game is balanced but because no one really gets to develop their plans. Instead you are left with what could have been and to me 4 player trains seems very anticlimactic.

The combination of deckbuilder and physical board to do stuff on has captured my attention in a way that no game has been able to in a while. Even if my friends won't play Trains anymore I have my eye on a couple more of these deckbuilder / board hybrids.

Tokyo Trains Game Board

Osaka Trains Game Board


Who Will Enjoy Trains?

Family Gamers: The rules are simple to learn especially for someone who has played Dominion, the strategy is a bit harder to come up with on your own but definitely allows for more creativity. The theme is neutral and I think there is a lot that can be learned from playing Trains. Obviously not one that kids can play on their own but for a board game oriented family Trains would be a hit.

Casual Gamers: Trains has a very fast setup time and the cleanup isn't bad either, the rules are easy to explain and turns whip around the table. Even though it is a "train game" the typical train theme is almost non existent, I think this makes it more accessible since I know a few people who have been turned off by train games or just simply not excited by them. I think what makes Trains great is it has that addicting feel of wanting to play again and again, this is great to show more casual and newer gamers because it really lets players develop their strategy and a lot of mechanics cross over into other games.

Gamer Gamers: Like I said, its great for showing non gamer friends, plays well with 2,3 or 4. Easy to explain but difficult to master, and multiple routes to victory. I think more serious gamers will appreciate how much you are able to manipulate the playing time and the level of interaction. And of course if you are someone who enjoys numbers you will like trying to figure out which strategy provides the most points and how to play more efficiently.


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