Like Reese’s, just less edible! – Trains Impressions
Do you remember those Reese’s commercials? The ones where one person says “You got your chocolate in my peanut butter!” and the other goes “You got your peanut butter in my chocolate!” Yeah. Reese’s are good, aren’t they? Trains is kinda like Reese’s. Except you can’t eat it. Well, I guess you could eat it, but I pity your digestive system for trying. So, how does Trains compare to Reese’s candy? Let’s find out!
Note: I’m not calling this a review. These are just my impressions of the game with some descriptions on how the game is played. I just have this thing about calling something a review, where I never feel like I’ve played enough of a game to be knowledgable enough to write a “review”. So, these are impressions. And their mine. You can’t have them!! All right, you can read them.
Note 2: I’m still continuing my “no major revision/rewrite” pledge (which I actually didn’t make publicly). Some minor tweaks here and there, but my goal is to continue to spew out stream of conscious writing. In all transparency, I added this note about halfway through this post because I felt like it was about to go off the rails. HA! RAILS! I didn’t even plan to make that pun, it just happened! *sigh* unintended puns are the best kind of puns.
Trains is a relatively new game from AEG, makers of such classics as Thunderstone, Smash Up!, the other Thunderstone (Thunderstone Advance). Trains is to Reese’s as deck building/rail laying is to chocolate/peanut butter. Standing on their own individual merits, deck building and rail laying games are quite popular. And Trains actually borrows a significant amount of mechanics from one of those popular deck building games, Dominion. But how well do they work together in the case of Trains? First, let’s go over how the game plays. If you’re familiar with Dominion, then picking up Trains will be very straightforward.
♫ I’ve been workin’ on the railroad, ever since I started playing Lay Rails cards… ♫
In Trains, the object of the game is to score the most points (from this point forward I will now refer to as StMP). You score points in one of two ways:
- Purchasing cards that give you points either at the end of the game (Apartment, Tower, or Skyscraper) or when played (Tourist Train)
- Having rail markers in cities with station markers on them, giving you points at the end of the game
- Having rail markers in Remote Locations around the edge of the train board, also giving you end game points
Players start with 10 cards in their deck; 7 Normal Train cards, 2 Lay Rails cards, and 1 Station Expansion. Players shuffle their decks and draw 5 cards to begin the game. During the game, players will use their hand of cards to purchase better cards from a common supply of 7 always present standard decks and 8 (out of an available 31) additional decks. Cards will also be used to progress on the “train board” as I like to call it, laying rail and building stations. Let’s talk a little bit more about these cards.
The cards in Trains are both recognizable and unique. There are plenty of Dominion analogues. Normal Train/Express Train/Limited Express Train cards are basically equivalent to Copper/Silver/Gold from Dominion. As well as Apartment/Tower/Skyscraper being roughly equivalent to Estate/Duchy/Province cards from Dominion. Cards in Trains can have a number of icons on them indicating what type of card it is, how much it costs, how much value it provides when played, and any additional abilities or “resources” they provide when played. Similar to Dominion (man, I gotta quit using that name), you’ll be playing cards to generate value to spend on acquiring new cards. But there’s another thing you can spend your money on, and that’s laying rails and building stations, which will lead me into the peanut butter, err…. sorry, train portion of the game
Trains comes with a board divided into hexes representing a section of map. The game comes with a double-sided board representing Osaka and Tokyo. At the start of the game, each player will place a rail marker on the map to indicate their starting point. From that point forward, whenever they lay rails, they will do so adjacent to their starting marker. In order to expand on the train board, players will need to play cards that give them, what I like call to call, rail points and station points. Each rail or station point will allow the player to place a marker of the appropriate type onto the board. When it comes to rails, depending on where you’re placing your marker and what other markers are already on the space in question will determine how much, if any, money you will need to spend. This money is the same money you use to purchase cards, so there’s some balancing to be done between buying more cards or expanding your rail line.
Expanding your rail line and getting into more cities to build more stations is a noble goal, but with most good intentions comes some crap and in this game, that’s in the form of Waste cards. Waste cards are kind of a cross between Curse cards and Victory Point cards in Dominion. You really don’t want them, but they’re not detrimental as a Curse would be, outside of clogging up your deck. Skipping your turn and returning any number of waste cards to their deck is the only guaranteed way to thin them out of your deck. There are some action cards that can help you get rid of waste, and in some cases get rid of them for positive benefits, such as more card draws or even money to spend. There’s another, relatively devious, way to gain waste cards, and that’s purchasing any of the victory point cards. So, not only to the purchased cards clog up your deck, but they bring along some waste with them!
The game ends at the end of a player’s turn whenever one of the following occurs:
- Any 4 card decks are empty, excluding the Waste deck (If you’re emptying the Waste deck which has 70 cards in it, you may want to review the rules as you’re likely doing something really wrong)
- The last station marker is placed on the board
- One player places their last rail marker on the board.
Final scoring is based on the victory point cards in your deck, any remote locations reached (giving face value in points), and points for rails in cities with stations.
I CHOO CHOO CHOO-se to play this game!
So, Trains was a super hyped game going into GenCon 2013. While I don’t think it deserved all that hoopla, I still consider this to be a very enjoyable game. I guess I’m still one of those people who isn’t completely sick and burned out on deck builders. And while it does have some pretty glaring similarities to Dominion, I still feel like there’s enough unique qualities to it that merit it being in my collection. The obvious unique quality is the rail laying mechanic. Train games have been one of those genres that have interested me, but I’ve also been leery of at the same time. I own Railways of the World, both regular and card game version, and have been keeping tabs on games like Rolling Freight, but with Trains, I feel like I could scratch my train game itch and have it still be enjoyable for my gaming groups.
Another difference I like to highlight is the fact that the starting cards you get, outside of the weaker money cards, actually can become more valuable later in the game. Having only two cards you can use to lay rail and only one to build a station is manageable early on, but once your deck gets full of other cards, you’ll be desperate to draw that Station Expansion card you need. Personally, I think it adds a nice dimension to the deck building aspect.
If you’re sick of Dominion and feel like deck building has worn out its welcome, then Trains probably isn’t the game for you. I still say play it once or twice, just so you can feel how the two mechanics work together, but I won’t be forcing any of my players who are done with Dominion to play it. I may ask them nicely, or bribe them with something, but I won’t force them.
In the end, I think the chocolate/peanut butter concoction of a game that is Trains is a tasty treat. It’s not going to satisfy you like, but as a treat now and then, I think it’s a perfect fit. Wow. I didn’t think I was going to be able to stretch out that reese’s analogy this far. Also, I mentioned Dominion eleven times in this post.