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Board Game Review: Trains

2013 October 20
by Michael Schroeder

Trains? Trains? Did you say, trains? I love trains! And what’s this? It’s done with the mechanic of deck building? Sign me up for Alderac’s, Trains!



Designer: Hisashi Hayashi

Number of players: 4

Age: 12+

Time: 45 minutes

What’s the game about?

A description from the publisher…

Manage Modern Railways!

The railways of today are amazing things and bullet trains, freight trains and more keep entire countries running. From transporting the populace to carrying essential materials, trains play an integral part in a nation’s power and economic development.

You will start with a small set of cards, but by building a more effective deck throughout the game, you will be able to place stations and lay rails over the maps of Osaka or Tokyo. Gain enough points from your railways and you will ultimately manage the most powerful railroads in modern Japan!

This English edition of Trains, designed by Hisashi Hayashi, features updated graphics, artwork, and streamlined card abilities. With extensive replay value, Trains is one game you won’t want to leave the station without!

Basic idea in my own words…

I hate using this comparison but I can’t resist. Trains gives a similar feeling of Dominion but includes a board to lay down rails. That sums it up! No, just kidding. In trains, you are  trying to build the greatest railroad in Tokyo. What makes this game so great, is that it uses the popular deck building mechanic with a twist. In addition, the game focuses around a game board, yay! On the board, you are laying your rail road across a hex map in either Osaka or Tokyo.

Osaka Map

Osaka Map

The game board has cities, that can have train stations, mountains, rivers, plains and distant cities. You get points at the end of the game by having rails on cities and distant cities. In addition, like the victory point cards in Dominion, there’s victory point cards, in the form of buildings, in the deck that you can also obtain, but they don’t seem to be as rewarding as building on the map. It’s your job to play the game as efficient as possible through the deck building mechanic and try to make building more expensive for your opponents, while expanding on the map. Another unique twist of the game is the use of waste cards. When you claim or utilize many cards, you get waste cards, which serve no function except for the clog up your deck. And boy, do you get a lot! The game ends when all the stations run out, or one players rails run out, or 4 decks run out.

Basic setup:

During setup, each player picks a color and takes all the cubes of that color, these are the players’ rails. Then place the board in an accessible area next to everyone. Give each player 7 normal train cards, 2 lay rail cards and 1 station expansion. The players then shuffle these 10 cards and it forms their starting hand. Then shuffle the randomizer cards and take 8 cards out and then place the 8 respective decks onto the table, along with the normal train deck, lay rails, waste, station expansion, apartment, tower and skyscraper. These latter cards will be in every game. Then choose a starting player, going around the table starting with that player, place 1 cube down anywhere on the board, except for a sea space or distant city space. Then play begins.

How do you play?

On your turn, similar to Dominion, you take 5 cards off the top of your deck. This is your hand. You have unlimited plays and buys, for whatever you can afford or manage to play in your hand. Unlike Dominion, there’s not a set sequence. You’re free to mix up your buys and actions as much as you wish. We should take a look at the cards:


Action card - Signals

Action card – Signals

Before we dive into the details of an action card, lets go over the anatomy of a card. Up top is the card name. The number on the left is the dollar amount the card gives you, and the number on the right is the cost of the card. Below the image is the card type. In this case, action. In the middle/bottom of the card shows benefits of the card.

For action cards, if you play the card, you must utilize all the effects of the card, you may not pick and choose. As many action cards may be played as you can or wish to play.

Lay Rails:

The lay rails cards are green cards that enable you to lay down rail tokens on the board. You must have one of these cards to be able to do so. Most cards allow you to lay one, some maybe more. In addition, the cost of laying a rail is getting a waste in your deck.

Lay Rails

Lay Rails

Train Cards:

Train cards are essentially money cards. Some train cards have extra benefits though.

Express Train card

Express Train card

The above express train card, for instance, gives 2 dollars and costs 3. You lay this card, with other cards that give money to pay for more cards, or to pay to lay down rails.

Victory Point Cards:

Victory point cards give VP’s at the end of the game.



The Skyscraper above, for instance, gives 4 VP’s at the end of the game, but when you buy it, you must take a waste. And just like Dominion, having too many of these too early on can clog your deck to the point of hurting you. So I wouldn’t start buying these till the game is closer to ending.

These card types represent most cards in the game. There are others though, such as station expansion that is critical but not shown here.

Back to your turn:

On your turn then, you lay down these cards from your hand in the hopes of being able to la down rails across the board. Laying down rail lines will give you the most points, in my experience. The victory point cards are a secondary way to get points in Train, in my opinion.

There’s lots of decisions to make on your turn when playing this game, but the game is simple enough, that it will appeal to most people I think.


A large aspect of Trains is the cost to lay down rail. If you wish to lay down a rail on a plains space, you just need a lay rails card. But rivers cost a dollar, mountains cost 2, distant cities cost the printed value and all cities cost 1. But what makes the game more challenging is, for each station in a city, and you aren’t in that city yet, its more costly to build into that city. Also a strategy in this game is expansion. Expanding on the board will not only give you more options of where to build, since you can only build adjacent, but it makes building rail lines more costly to your opponents. If you build on a space with another player’s rail, you must pay an extra dollar for each opponent present, plus take a waste card. So a large part of this game is trying to get more money, and lay rail cards to be able to expand your rail lines.

Once a player has made all their moves, they do a cleanup. Which is putting all the cards they bought or used this round into a discard pile of their own and take the next 5 cards off their draw deck. Play proceeds to the next player.

The game ends when one person has used up all their rails, or all the stations are gone, or 4 decks are all purchased from the purchase/market area of cards.




Components: 4/5

Once again, Alderac does it. The component quality is great. Its extremely similar in box style to the original Thunderstone. The manual is a nice full color manual and the box is nice and sturdy. My only complaint is that I wish they would have thrown more foam blocks into the box because you must be careful removing cards or they all fall and get mixed up. More foam blocks would have helped with this.

Theme: 5/5

I absolutely love trains! It can’t get any better than this! Well, maybe if it was 1800’s era steam engines it could…a re-theme?

Luck Factor: 4/5

As typical with all deck builders, luck is extremely high due to the all the shuffling. But play the game right, and this won’t matter as much.

Strategy: 4/5

Lots of strategy in this game. Its hard not to be constantly laying rails and laying stations because you get so much waste in your hand. But at the same time you must balance out expanding quickly so to make things more expensive for your opponents. Also trying to play efficient is important.

Overall Feelings: 5/5

I love Trains! When I heard of this game coming out I was so excited. The deck building is a solid mechanic and the quality is top notch and its a blast. I personally favor this over Dominion because while there’s no attack cards, I feel there’s much more interaction due to all player’s working on the same board in a limited space. I would absolutely recommend picking this game up!

Review copy kindly provided by Alderac Entertainment Group.

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