Tag Archives: trains

Bombtrack – Railways of the World review

RotW Cover

The Judge returns once again, this time not to check out something brand new, but to look to one of Eagle Games’ biggest sellers instead! Fancy some old-school networking? Time to pick up a copy of Railways of the World – if your back can handle it!

Gamers, as a breed, are always being swept along in the continual, unending, irresistible Cult of the New. Myself included, by the way. I’m not only a registered, card carrying member – I also have a commemorative t-shirt and have started the fan club. I love new games, as do my gaming groups, so I don’t get as many opportunities to revisit some of my favourites as perhaps I would like.

There are exceptions. Terra Mystica is an evergreen and so is the subject of today’s review – Railways of the World.

When discussing this classic “pick up and deliver game” it’s almost a cliché to begin comparing this with Age of Steam and Steam – they’re all from to the same original Martin Wallace design, after all. However, I haven’t played either of those, so in a refreshing break from tradition, they shan’t be mentioned again!

What I do know is that Railways of the World is my second favourite logistics game. (Roads and Boats is best. Review to come…) Simply put, players take turns constructing track to connect cities together and deliver goods cubes from their random starting location towards a destination city. There are a few interesting wrinkles – you have to pay money to build anything and you begin with zero cash. Until you start scoring points, your income each round is also zero, and to gain points you have to deliver goods on your track. You see the problem?

Fortunately, debt is your friend. Loans (or bonds), can be taken to provide a cash influx to get you started – but may never be totally paid off. Once you take this cash (bestowed upon you by an Age of Steam-era payday loans company) [You said you wouldn’t mention it! – Michael] you are indebted to pay £1 per bond after every round of play. That millstone around your neck may have been an attractive charm to begin with, but by the end of the game, you’re lugging around a significant chunk of Stonehenge.

Does this sound stressful? Good, because it is – the positive kind of stressful though. You could play slowly and build up your infrastructure in a fiscally conscientious manner – were it not for the competition of your other players. Acting like gold hungry ’49ers, players will be scrambling to be the first player to deliver the limited number of cubes, identify profitable network routes, and hoping they can get it done before someone gets in the way.

RotW Play

This is all great fun, satisfying, challenging and a giant, ever-changing puzzle. It also looks gorgeous. Railways has been over-produced within an inch of its life. Rail links are marked with brightly coloured, detailed, plastic trains. The timer for the game is the number of cities that have been emptied of cubes. How should we mark these? A cardboard chit? Or a giant plastic water tower? Yep! It’s the latter. The boards also deserve special mention as they are attractive, graphically clear and HUGE. Currently available are Europe, Great Britain, Canada, Mexico and the East and Western US. You can also choose to play a transcontinental variant by putting the East and West maps together, though for this you will need to hire a small village hall or community centre (not included.)

Any negatives? Well, the random card draws of “cool stuff” or specific, point giving tasks are deliberately overpowered and can give you a huge boost – particularly at the start of the game. That said, the auction for turn order at the start of each round deals with most of those problems. “Taking that card would be great, but how much is it worth for me?” is a question that often comes up. Bidding the right amount at the right time to claim these is another key part of the race to victory.

The game claims it plays up to six, depending on the map. Ordinarily, games that say this are dirty, little liars and force players into lengthy, painful experiences. Railways, because of its micro-turns, is actually very good about preventing downtime and is great (though quite different) with all numbers of players. Play Europe with five or six and you have a super tight, cutthroat, knife fight in a phone box. Play The Western US with two and you could conceivably never meet each other.

I love Railways of the World. It is challenging, highly competitive and most importantly a whole heap of fun. A few steps up from Ticket to Ride, not as long or complex as the 18xx series – Railways hits the sweet spot for me, and guarantees a place on my collection, not least as an immovable object standing in the way of the irresistible force of the cult of the new.

Railways of the World is currently published by Eagle Games. Designed by Martin Wallace and Glenn Drover, it was originally released back in 2005. Between two and six players can get around the table, but be sure that it’s a bloody big one! Thanks to The Judge for his write-up, and be sure to follow him on Twitter today!

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Long Train Running – Yardmaster video review

Yardmaster COVER

We’re aiming to do a bit more video stuff here on Little Metal Dog, so here’s one right now – a look at Steven Aramini’s Yardmaster which will be hitting Kickstarter soon through Crash Games. A quick playing card game where players are looking to build one of the huge trains that travel across the US transporting carfuls of goods, here’s a runthrough of the rules and some thoughts on the game.

Thanks for watching!

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Rollin’ – Trains review

Trains COVER

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).

Purchase cost is in the top right corner, while its money value is top left. Actions and special instructions are at the bottom - and you will grow to hate that little recycle symbol... bloody Waste cards.

Purchase cost is in the top right corner, while its money value is top left. Actions and special instructions are at the bottom – and you will grow to hate that little recycle symbol… bloody Waste cards!

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?

Each game will give you sixteen different card types to play with - eight are always the same, while eight are randomized to give plenty of replayability.

Each game will give you sixteen different card types to play with – eight are always the same, while eight are randomized to give plenty of replayability.

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!

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International Velvet – Snowdonia review

I’ve been thinking a lot (dangerous, I know) about Spiel 2012 – and more specifically, the games that were released there. Since I got back on Monday I’ve had a LOT of emails asking the usual stuff; did I have fun (yes), how many interviews did I do (just about fifty) and – the biggest question of all – what was my Game of the Show?

In all honesty, this is a very difficult one to answer. As I was running around like a mad thing for most of the show I didn’t actually get a huge amount of time to do much in the way of playing during the four days of Spiel. Sure, there was a fair few games in the evening at the hotel but it’s only really now, post event, that I get to sit around the table with friends and play all those boxes I dragged home. Suburbia is certainly up there on my hotlist, as are Tzolk’in, Space Cadets and the very lovely new version of Sentinels of the Multiverse, but I think I’ve finally decided.

Snowdonia by Tony Boydell is, in a word, wonderful. A middleweight Euro for between one and five players, the premise sees you building a railway up the side of Wales’ finest, foggiest mountainside. Rubble must be cleared, stations need to be built and… well, that’s about it for the story. However, the game itself is packed out with a depth that is rarely so easy to get your teeth into.

Each turn you’ll be able to take a couple of actions (potentially three if you’ve planned ahead well) that will help you in your quest to get that railway constructed. If you boil it down, Snowdonia is essentially a race for points, but the theme is reflected in the opportunities available to you. With only seven different possibilities, you may initially think that the game is somewhat limiting but the realisation kicks in soon that it’s all about building the most efficient engine as quickly as possible. Iron ore is changed into steel bars that can be used to lay track or get your hands on a train (more on that shortly) while rubble can be compressed into stone then used to build stations. Almost everything you do in Snowdonia can score you points, but you’re not going to win this game without some rather lucrative contracts.

These cards set out precisely what you need in order to get some very hefty bonuses. Whether it’s collecting a huge pile of rubble or making sure that you’ve built a decent amount of tracks and buildings, completing them often sets you on the path to victory. As well as points, they also offer you the chance to bend the rules each turn – many can be triggered during certain action phases and will bestow benefits on you and your opposition, so choosing the right time to use them is a major part of the game.

Another way to turn things in your favour is to pick up a train card. They’re costly – most will set you back a couple of steel bars so they can eat into your resources – but will give you a permanent bonus. Whether it’s getting an extra resource each turn or simply more points at the end of the game, choosing the right one is hugely influential. They also allow you to spend a coal cube before each turn in order to get a third worker out of the pub – a great way to get more and more stuff done and work your way along the stations.

Snowdonia in all its cube-driven glory! Click to embiggen.

Of course, this being Wales, you’re going to be slaves to its ‘glorious’ weather. An ingenious little system shows what’s happening meteorologically and this does actually effect how the game plays out. The backs of the contract cards show whether it’s sunny, wet or foggy and by seeing what’s coming up you’ll be able to hopefully plan ahead. Work can progress when it’s bright or raining but should the fog descend everything grinds to a halt – the perfect time to stock up on resources or send your surveyor further up towards the summit; the higher the better as he can again pull in some decent points at the end of play.

Once track has been laid to the final station, the game draws to a close, points are tallied and a winner is declared. Play steams along at a decent pace, especially when you get into gear and start putting your plans for domination into place. A system has also been built in where the game will start laying track and finishing off stations by itself, so hoarding resources and turtling up will do you no favours! You’re forced to get on with it, spend freely from the very beginning and get your presence on the board sooner rather than later, especially in a game of four or five players.

It’s well known that Tony is a fan of Agricola (just look at his slightly deranged blog right here) and you can certainly see Uwe Rosenberg’s influence on Snowdonia – both have a simplicity and straightforward manner of play, and fans of medieval farming will easily slip into the ways of mountainous railway construction. While there’s a lot of information going on in the game, everything is clearly presented and you’ll never get overloaded with detail; another sign of an excellent design.

Also included in the box is a whole new scenario which switches up the gameplay and adds yet more replay value to the package – work is also apparently going on by certain other designers to produce new card sets too, so it looks like Snowdonia is going to be well supported for some time to come. I’d suggest you get in early, grab a copy and get playing before this one starts picking up awards and it becomes hard to find. Who’d have thought that hard labour could be so entertaining? It’s bloody marvellous.

Snowdonia was designed by Tony Boydell and is published by Surprised Stare, Lookout Games and uplay.it. Between two and five can play, with a slightly different set of rules available if you fancy some solo action. It’ll cost you around £32 for a copy, but Gameslore have it available for £26.99. GET IT. NOW.

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Hunting High and Low – Mystery Express review

Cluedo (or Clue if you’re familiar with it’s non-UK brethren) was another one of those games that I played a fair bit when I was younger but I can probably count on one hand the amount of times that I actually played it properly. Most of the time it degenerated into a solitary story telling exercise as I moved the pawns around the board, making up a tale of murder and depravity in my head as the other players got bored and went outside to play football or something. I don’t think I’ve had a game of Cluedo since I was about 10, but I must admit to being a recently converted fan of the terrible/brilliant movie that it inspired – deduction games never really floated my boat, but as regular readers know, I’m always willing to try anything.

Mystery Express is the latest release by Days of Wonder, though it’s not their first game where the objective is to solve the puzzle – that honour goes to Mystery Of The Abbey, a game that is still well loved despite its age and (in my opinion) slightly dry theme. Call me strange, but having gone to Catholic school, monks scare the hell out of me. Thankfully though, Mystery Express is a bit more to my liking, being set upon that most luxurious of locations… The Orient Express! Naturally, we need a mystery as well, so what better than a murder?

Between three and five players choose from a selection of characters, each with their own special ability (stealing an extra hour of in-game time, for example), aiming to solve the murder as early as possible. There are five aspects to work out: quite simply Who, What, Where, Why and When. Each of these areas has a stack of cards with a pair for each possible option; in the Location pile, there are two Dining Car cards, for example – the only difference is the Time deck, of which there are three of each. One card is removed from each shuffled set, and the players need to use their powers of deduction to work out what these hidden cards are.

This is done by combining the different decks into one giant pile (Time cards are put to the side, and are revealed to all players during the game), shuffling them up and dealing seven cards to each player. If you happen to be lucky enough to hold two of the same, you get to secretly eliminate them from your investigation. The rest of the cards get shared out between the Conductor and Passengers area of the board and the game begins.

Now, one of the great things about the game is that you don’t need to get everything right in order to win the game – you just need to get more right than everyone else to claim victory. As the train rattles across Europe (the journey to each city represents one turn), players get to spend the time in various cars on the Express – each one costing them a certain amount of hours, but possibly giving them the opportunity to check out cards from other people, new passengers and the wandering Conductor. As each part of the journey moves on, more and more possibilities can be eliminated until eventually you reach Budapest – the penultimate stop on the journey. Here you are allowed to send a telegram – an opportunity for you put down the elements that you’re completely sure of that will be used in the case of there being a tie at the end. Things become a little clearer in that last section of the journey, so it’s very possible for players to have worked out a similar amount of bits of the mystery, so this telegram concept is a brilliant idea – if you’re totally convinced that something is true, put it down… you may well snatch victory from the jaws of equality!

Mystery Express is a very entertaining game. The whole need to be sneaky isn’t something that comes naturally to me (I’m a very open player and often find it tricky to keep things close to my chest) but I found the game a total joy to play. Thematically it really evokes the classic tales by Agatha Christie, and – as always – the presentation is second-to-none. Days of Wonder releases never fail to impress with their components, and Mystery Express is one of their most beautiful games. Everything from the board to the cards look great, and it’s all printed on good quality cardstock. The plastic player pieces are incredibly detailed, although I reckon they missed a trick not including an actual train whistle…

So, would I recommend getting yourself a copy? Definitely. There aren’t that many deduction games out there to start with, let alone ones that play well. I must admit that I found it more enjoyable with more people (the five-player game I had was brilliant – three-player was still fun, but it really does feel like the more the merrier). If you fancy something that’s a little different, I’d really encourage you to get on board. And I’m really sorry, because that’s an awful pun.

Mystery Express was designed by Antoine Bauza and Serge Laget. It was released in 2010 by Days of Wonder and can be played by three, four or five players taking between 60 and 90 minutes. It’s available here in the UK for around £35.

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