As the deckbuilding genre has been around for a while, it’s high time that the next level of games kick in. Where the original big names like Dominion and Thunderstone kept things relatively simple, gamers are now looking for something that takes the concept a little bit further. One of the better games out there that goes that extra mile is Trains, originally released by Japon Brand just prior to Essen 2012. While that first version was perfectly playable without a grasp of katakana, AEG have stepped in and released the game as part of their Big In Japan series – and man, it’s a lovely thing.
Just like pretty much every deck builder out there, you start with a hand of basic cards and are looking to buy better ones that will improve your lot in life. However, this one is taking it to the next level, remember? In Trains, you’re not just dealing with cards; there’s a board too!
Oh yes. A board! Rather than gaining the majority of your points from the cards you’ll be purchasing, instead you’re attempting to build a networked railway across a hex-based map. Cities are dotted around amongst a range of different terrain types, alongside a bunch of high-value spaces that will pull in a good few points if you manage to get in there. The cards you start with give you either money (with which new cards can be bought), the ability to lay track (placing one of your coloured cubes on the map) or build stations (adding a station cylinder to a city hex – more stations mean more points during the endgame).
As the game progresses, your little network of cubes will stretch far and wide across the Japanese countryside, eventually crashing into someone else’s line. Thankfully you’re allowed to occupy the same space as other people, the only issue being cost. You’ll have to take into account the cost for building on the terrain type, then pay one extra coin for each other player’s cube in that hex – sometimes, especially in particularly valuable or contentious spaces, you could be spending a fortune just to open up a new area of the board or muscle in on someone else’s high value hex. The question at the back of your mind should always be whether it’s worth the investment.
Of course, as in the real world, all actions have consequences. In Trains building, whether it’s track or stations, creates debris that comes in the form of Waste cards. You will, over the course of mere moments, come to hate these cards that have no purpose whatsoever except for filling your hand with useless cards. Yes, they’re spectacularly annoying, but it’s such a fantastic idea you get to wondering why it hasn’t been done before. Some of the purchasable cards in the game allow you to trade in Waste for extra money or points (ahhh, Landfill, such a useful buy!) but without those in your deck you’re often going to be stuck with a hand of dregs and cursing yet another wasted turn.
I’ve generally found that not many points are scored during play; the vast majority come during the endgame, so it’s not until you’re finished that you’ll really have a handle on who’s the winner. The fact that cards can be bought that are just about points (along the lines of Dominion‘s Provinces and the like) mean that even if you’re keeping track of everything on the board, it’s up in the air until that final moment.
From a production standpoint, AEG have taken a great game and really put a sheen on top of it. This new version is a hefty thing of glory. Gone are the admittedly charming though rather industrial looking photographs on the cards, replaced with a swish graphical style that, while cartoonish, is far from childish. The whole package looks cool and modern, though the use of the Thunderstone box inlay immediately had me thinking about the possibility of expansion cards. I know the game is only officially being released at this weekend’s GenCon, but surely someone at AEG and Japon Brand are thinking about such things?
I have fallen for Trains in a big way. Last year, getting my hands on a copy proved nigh on impossible. When it was available, it was too expensive, then when I had money it simply couldn’t be found. Now that AEG have rereleased it to what will hopefully be an appreciate audience (and from the buzz coming out of GenCon it seems to be one of the hottest games of the show), I hope that Trains leads the charge of great stuff from Japan. It’s reinvigorated a genre that can often boil down to multiplayer solitaire, demanding interaction between people with the simple introduction of a board. I think that copy of Dominion is going to be staying on the shelf a lot more – Trains is now my deckbuilder of choice.
Trains was designed by Hisashi Hiyashi and was originally released through Japon Brand in 2012. The new English language version is out now and has been produced by AEG. Between two and four people can play with games taking around 40-60 minutes. If you’d like a copy for yourself – and who wouldn’t?! – you can pick one up from Gameslore for £41!