I like trains. I like the look of trains. I like the sound of trains. I like travelling on trains. I sometimes want to build my own railway network. So I obviously like games about trains. Therefore I own Ticket To Ride and have played it a fair bit. If you’re not familiar with Ticket To Ride, it’s a board game based on collecting sets of cards which you use to build a rail network across the USA. It’s quite fun. But recently I picked up a new game about trains. It’s called Trains.
Trains is the child of Ticket To Ride and Dominion. That sentence will have probably sent most board game geeks into a wild frenzy… okay… are you back now? Deck building, trains, a board, hexagons, tiny wooden cubes? You want those? We’ll you can have them all in Trains.
So what do you do in Trains? You build a rail network across either Tokyo or Osaka. How do you build this network? With a deck of cards! That you build! During the game! Like Dominion!
Some of you wont be familiar with deck building, so I’ll explain it:
- you start with a few cards in your deck, usually they allow you to generate money
- you play those cards on your turn to get money
- you use that money to buy cards to put into your deck to make it better
- you put those fresh purchases into your discard pile
- when you run out of card to draw from, you shuffle your discard pile and it becomes your draw pile
- the cards that you buy often generate more money or allow you to do other cool things
See? See? Now you should be able to see why deck building is my favourite game mechanic. You don’t sit down in advance and plan your strategy, you develop your deck to react to your opponents and their strategies. Dominion seems to be credited with being the father/mother/asexual prequel to modern deck building games.
Back to Trains. Trains is very similar to Dominion. Some of the cards in Trains are facsimiles of Dominion cards but I think that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Trains doesn’t set out to revolutionise deck building but tries to take everything that Dominion did and improve it or tweak it.
Trains has fixed a few things that I don’t feel that Dominion did correctly. The first of which is the theme. Dominion was very loosely based on you developing your kingdom which was set in some low fantasy medieval time and place. The game mechanics didn’t really reflect that. I enjoyed Dominion because of its mechanics and in spite of its theme. However Trains takes those mechanics and gives it a generous coating of theme. The cards and actions reflect things you do when building railways! Your “Lay Rails” card lays rails! Your Bullet Train increases your income! You can develop skyscrapers and apartment blocks that sprout up around your successful railway! The theme and mechanics are intertwined. Trains art is a step in the right direction. Dominion had pretty damn bland art work, it was consistent but damn bland. Trains has a nice modern art style. Quite light and airy but it’s not as consistent as Dominion. Take for example the board, the scoring track around the edge has this weird repeating gradient which looks a bit naff and the the mountain terrain looks more like a forest. If the board looked more like the cards then I probably wouldn’t be complaining about the art.
Interaction with other players has always been something that Dominion and its ilk struggle with and I fear that Trains hasn’t fixed it. In Dominion you play cards to make your kingdom richer and bigger. You very rarely (at least in my experience) do anything that severely disrupts your opponents plans. Trains is quite similar, in fact during my play through and from looking at the rest of the cards I can’t see any way of disrupting my opponents plans. However what Trains has over Dominion is the board. This is where I feel I’m going to be able to mess with my opponents.
The board is map of a either Tokyo or Osaka, it’s split into hexagons that either represents urban or natural parts of the landscape. You lay rails all over it and build stations in the urban parts. The rule that makes it interesting to me is that by laying rail in a hex you increase your opponents cost to lay rail there later. Then once you’ve built stations in hexes they become even more expensive for your opponents to build in. So do you want to try to build in the nice developed regions of the board but at a higher cost? Or do you want to go off and start developing new areas? When I played it was just my girlfriend and I so the board didn’t feel that cramped but with four players it’s going to get congested quickly and you’re going to be forced to jostle for position.
I expect that AEG have expansions planned for Trains. There is certainly room for it in the box. I’d imagine these bring new cards, maybe adding player interaction within the decks. I’d be up for an expansion in a few months time. I’d really like to see a tweaked board in a expansion.
If you liked Dominion you’ll probably love Trains. If you’re thinking of buying Dominion for the first time, don’t. Buy Trains. All in all, buy Trains. It’s a laugh.