• Preview: TRAINS

    You are a modern day rail baron attempting to build the most valuable rail network in Japan. You employ a veritable fleet of trains, engineers, and construction teams pushing your rails out across the countryside and building stations in every major city you pass by. In AEG’s new release TRAINS you manage all of these resources in an ingenious combination of two beloved game genres that blend together to create a new gaming experience.

    TRAINS is the latest in the “Big in Japan” line of games by AEG . The game seamlessly combines the strategy mechanics and intriguing complexity of deck building games such as Dominion with the board control and route plotting of a game like Ticket-to-Ride.

    Game Setup –

    Where are we going?

    Pick which side of the board you want to play on, you can choose from either Tokyo or Osaka. I would suggest you start with Tokyo (it’s a little easier).

    Pull into the station.

    Each player will have a starting deck of 10 ‘basic’ cards. This will include 7 ‘normal train’, 2 ‘lay rails’, and 1 ‘station expansion’. As the game progresses you will add more cards to the deck improving your trains, rails and stations.

    Each player will also need to pick a color of token to represent their rail lines on the board and the scoring track. Players can choose from Yellow, Red, Blue and Green. Each player will receive 20 cubes in their color to be used to mark their tracks plus one extra that is placed on the scoring track. There is also a pool of ‘station markers’ (white cylinders) that should be placed next to the game board within easy reach of all players.

    All Aboard!

    Player 1 is the person who has most recently traveled by train. Starting with Player 1 each player takes one of their rail tokens and selects a hex on the board to start their rail network. Every other token you place will have to be adjacent to one already on the board, so choose wisely! The restrictions are that you cannot start on ‘Sea’ (blue) spaces, ‘Remote Locations’ (hexes with numbers inside stars), or a hex that has already been claimed by another player.

    What are we working with?

    The next step is to set up the community “Supply”. This will be the pool of cards that players ‘build’ their deck from during the game. Every game will have a pool of 16 cards to add to your deck. 8 that are always used and 8 that are selected at random, using the ‘randomizer’ cards (shuffle up the 30 randomizers and deal out 8.) Place these cards in stacks within easy reach of all players.

    I’m all set, what do I do now?

    Trains has a very simple goal, get the most victory points by the end of the game! There are a number of ways to do that throughout the game from both the board and the cards. The game is played until one of three things happen:

    1. Any 4 piles of the ‘Supply’ are emptied (including 'Waste')
    2. A player runs out of rail tokens (by placing them on the board)
    3. The pool of ‘Station markers’ is exhausted.

    If any of these things happen the active player will finish their turn and then everyone counts up their victory points!

    Time to leave the station.

    There are 6 card types in TRAINS. Train cards (blue border), Lay Rails cards (green border), Action cards (red border), Victory Point cards (yellow border), Station Expansion (purple border), and Waste cards (grey border). Each of these cards serves a different purpose and managing how many and which cards get added to your deck over the course of a game is a major part of the game strategy.

    The train cards generate your ‘money’ resource that is used to purchase new cards to put into your deck. This value is represented on the train card in the top left as a number inside a cream colored circle. The ‘Normal Train’ card is the basic resource card that is found in the starting deck. As your rail empire grows the trains you can purchase and use become faster/bigger and generate more money! Each train has two circles on the top of the card. The first is the one mentioned above, the resource value, while the second in the top right which is red with a white numeral displaying the cost to purchase that train from the ‘Supply’. The ‘Normal Train’ cards do not cost you anything since you start the game with them.

    The ‘Lay Rails’ card represents your basic track-building action in the game. In order to place a new rail token to extend your train network you must have a ‘Lay Rails’ card in your hand. All of the green bordered cards act as a ‘Lay Rails’ action even if they provide other bonuses. On your turn, when you play the ‘Lay Rails’ card, you place one of your rail tokens in a hex adjacent to one of the hexes that your tokens already occupy on the board.

    The ‘Lay Rails’ action also requires you to take a ‘Waste’ card into your deck whenever you play it. This represents the cost of used-up materials that went into making your rail line. The ‘Waste’ cards are completely useless as they do not provide actions, victory points or resources. The ‘Waste’ cards also provide a pacing mechanism for the game which prevents any one player from taking too many expansion actions too quickly as this will quickly fill up their deck with useless ‘Waste’ cards.

    The third card type in the starter deck is the ‘Station Expansion’ card. When this card is played you take one of the white Station Tokens and place it into a city that your rail line is going through. Also, as with the ‘Lay Rails’ action, the ‘Station Expansion’ action requires you to add a ‘Waste’ card to your deck.

    The red bordered cards are the ‘Action Cards’, these cards let you do some kind of action such as draw a card or put a ‘Waste’ card back into the waste pile. Some even provide resources just like the train cards will. Any card which lets you perform an action will have a red triangle with an exclamation point on the card.

    The yellow bordered cards are purely victory points. They have a value in the bottom left that signifies how many points the card is worth if it is in your deck at the end of the game. The downside to victory point cards are that they do nothing else in the game creating a dead card just like ‘Waste’ cards. The victory points are represented by the buildings you can build along your train route including Apartments, Towers, and Skyscrapers. These cards also require you to add a ‘Waste’ card to your deck.

    Moving down the line

    Starting with Player 1, each player will draw 5 cards from their own deck into their hand. Then, in turn order, each player uses the cards in their hand to either buy new cards for their deck, lay rail tokens to extend their rail line, build train stations in their cities, do actions, or dispose of waste. These options (with the exclusion of waste disposal) can be done in any order as many times per turn as your hand allows.

    Buying New Cards :

    To purchase a card from the supply, you play trains (or other resource generating cards) from your hand equal to the cost of the card you want to purchase. In the example below I’m playing 3 of my ‘Normal Train’ cards which each generate one ‘Money’ resource to purchase an ‘Express Train’ that costs 3 (red circle). The ‘Express Train’ will go in my discard pile and when I draw it later it gives me a better resource per card value (it makes 2 ‘Money’ instead of 1) when I play it. This is the basic concept of improving your deck as the game goes on.

    Expanding your Rail Network:

    The second action you can take is to play a ‘Lay Rails’ card to extend your rail line into adjacent locations (fields, cities, mountains etc.). To do this, you play the Lay Rails card and pay the required resources (if any) to place your rail token into a hex adjacent to one of your existing tokens. Each type of hex has a different cost to lay your rail line there. The rule book has a handy reference chart on the back which is nice to keep next to the game board (seen below). On average, you will need 1-3 resources to place your tokens in any given location (but sometimes it can be more.) You can even join your fellow players in their spaces if you are willing to pay the cost of sharing their rails!

    Each hex has a unique cost to lay a rail into it defined as the 'extra cost' in the chart above. In the example below, the Green player started in Ohmiya city and wants to expand into Urawa city. This action requires a ‘Lay Rails’ card to be played, which adds a ‘Waste’ card to Green’s discard pile, and 1 ‘Money’ which is paid for with the Normal Train card since Urawa city is a “City” location.

    Building Train Stations:

    On your turn, you also have the option to build a train station in a city your railway passes through by playing a ‘Station Expansion’ card. When you play this card you take a Waste card and add it to your discard pile. Then take one of the community train station markers (the white cylinders) and place it in one of your cities. To do this you must have a city along your rail line and the city has to have capacity for a train station. Each city has either 1, 2 or 3 white towers in the picture the city on the board. This is the limit to the number of train stations you can place in those cities.

    Playing Action Cards:

    Another thing you can do on your turn is play any action cards you have in your hand. You simply play the card on the table, take the action specified on the card (example : Draw 3 cards) and then put the card aside until the end of your turn.

    Disposing of Waste:

    There is one more action to choose, and it is something you only want to do if you have a hand full of ‘Waste’. To do this you simply take all of the ‘Waste’ cards in your hand and put them back into the ‘Waste’ stack in the Supply. Then you pass the rest of your turn. You cannot do this if you have taken any of the other possible actions on your turn. This is particularity effective on a turn when you draw 3 or 4 waste cards. While it prevents you from doing anything else, it’s the most effective way to remove waste from your deck.

    Ending your turn
    Once you are done making all of your plays for your turn you simply discard all cards you played this turn as well as any left-over in your hand and draw a new hand of 5 cards. Play proceeds clockwise around the board.

    Ending the Game & Scoring

    If at any point at least 4 piles of cards have been emptied (any 4 including the ‘Waste’), the last train station has been placed on the board or a player places their last rail token, the game ends at the end of that player’s turn.

    Take all of the Victory point cards purchased during the game out of your deck and add up the points on the cards. Apartments are worth 1 point, Towers are worth 2, and Skyscrapers are worth 4 (as printed on the cards). Advance each player token along the scoring track equal to the points scored. After this has been done, count up the points on the board. Hexes are scored once for each player with a rail token in the hex (so once if only one player has claimed the hex) as follows:

    • Fields, Rivers, Mountains, and Cities with no stations – 0 points
    • Cities with 1 station – 2 points
    • Cities with 2 stations – 4 points
    • Cities with 3 stations – 8 points
    • Remote locations - # of points listed in the star on the board hex.

    If multiple players occupy the same hex they each score the full amount of points that hex is worth.

    The player with the most points has claimed dominance of the railways of Japan and wins the game!

    What’s in the box? :

    TRAINS comes in a standard 12 x 12 x 4 box crammed full of cards with space for even more (It also has the nice foam blocks AEG is known for to fill space so your cards don’t go everywhere while you wait for expansions!)

    Inside the box you’ll find:

    • 1 double sided game board (Tokyo/Osaka)
    • 530 cards
      • 40 starting cards (Normal Train, Lay Rails, Station Expansion)
      • 30 Sets of 10 different cards that can be used to build your deck as the game progresses, along with 60 basic resource cards that are used every game
      • 30 randomizer cards (matching the 30 sets above) to select the cards you’ll play each game
      • 30 victory point location cards (10 each of 3 point values)
      • 70 Waste

    • 84 ‘rail’ tokens (cubes) in 4 colors
      • 20 of each color + 1 extra to use as scoring markers

    • 30 ‘station’ markers (wooden towers)

    Final Thoughts

    combines two game concepts I love: deck building and route building/area control. The game plays well across demographics. I've demoed this game for both gamers and non-gamers alike and both found it interesting and fun. The learning curve can be a little higher for players who are not used to the deck building mechanic but after a few turns everyone settles in, though it may take multiple plays to grasp advance strategies.

    There is solid re-playability due to the large mix of cards and the fact that the basic game comes with two boards instead of one, like Ticket-to-Ride. The components and the box are both high quality. The game art is attractive and easy to make out, the cards are a solid card stock which shuffles well, and the wooden tokens are… well… wood. The box is also built to hold way more cards than the game comes with, making it appear as if AEG plans to expand the game in the near future.

    There are not many negatives but they do exist and are: a lot of the cards are similar to cards from Dominion (meaning, exactly the same mechanic AND cost.) Some of the cards also have a redundant mechanic (5 cost action that draws 2 cards and 7 cost action that draws 3.) This doesn't bother me much because the randomizer mechanic keeps the card pool feeling fresh each game and the interaction with the board makes it feel different enough that I don’t feel like I’m playing ‘Dominion on a train.’

    I would have really liked to see different components for the scoring and rail tokens. The rule book actually shows the rail markers as longer stick tokens similar to the ‘Road’ markers from Settlers of Catan. But I assume this was dropped for the cubes to keep the cost of the game down.

    So what's it worth?

    At $60 retail I feel the contents of the box and the game itself are a very good value. The game is $15 more than most deck building games that only come with cards and maybe some counters. TRAINS does includes a similar number of cards (500+) AND a board AND a decent amount of wooden tokens to explain that difference in cost.

    I give the game a solid 8 out of 10 and I expect it to stay in my collection for a long time. There is a very good chance this game may obsolete Dominion for me, at least for a while.

    A little extra...

    The rulebook is available as a free download (pdf) on the AEG website along with a free print and play map (Hooray for a 3rd map already!) that was given out in board form exclusively at GenCon 2013 this year (Map!).
    Comments 1 Comment
    1. Typhon's Avatar
      Typhon -
      Great write-up! While I've never played Ticket To Ride, I did play Trains and Stations at GenCon and these types of game seem to offer a lot of quick and dirty fun!