By far the most frequently played games in my house are reasonably simple and quick card games that we pull out to unwind after dinner, and the most recent of these acquisitions is the ingenious little Game of Trains from Brain Games. Don’t be fooled by the tiny box - there’s a fair bit of strategy here for you to choo on! (Okay, I’ll try to stop with the puns).
I’m not exaggerating though, the box for this game is very small - It definitely won’t take up a lot of precious shelf real estate in your collection. I may have made a few premature judgements when I saw the box size and read through the rules, but I was pleasantly surprised by how much this game had me planning and plotting once we played it.
Game of Trains - Gameplay
The game comprises of four locomotive cards and 84 railcar cards. Essentially, each player has a single line of numbered railcar cards that start the game in descending number order. The aim of the game is to be the first player to rearrange their railcars into ascending order, and win!
Each player is given a single locomotive card to head up their line and seven railcar cards. Each of these cards features some lovely artwork at the bottom, a special ability icon at the top and is numbered between 1-84. The rest of the cards are placed in a draw pile with some placed face-up to be used for their special abilities.
Players then take it in turns to either:
Take a new carriage card from the draw pile and place it on to your line in any spot. The railcar card you are removing from your line is placed face-up in the centre of the play area next to the draw and discard piles. If there are ever two cards with the same special ability in this area they both get discarded.
Take a carriage card face-up in the centre of the play area and use its special ability to affect your (and potentially your opponents’) lines in some way. These special abilities allow you to:
- Move a railcar two spaces left.
- Move a railcar two spaces right.
- Swap two adjacent railcars.
- Swap two railcars that have one card between them.
- Force all players to remove the first, last or centre cards of their lines. The removed cards go face-up in the centre of the play area. Each player then draws a new card from the draw pile to replace the removed card in their line.
- 'Lock' a card in place in your line. This will protect it from those sneaky line-sabotaging cards mentioned above.
And that’s it! With rules that simple, it’s easy to keep the game on track.
Final Thoughts on Game of Trains
Game of Trains is such a lovely, light game that I’ve found works great with people that aren’t too familiar with board games and I would say it’d also be great to play with families and kids too, as it’s not overly mean. The only time you directly interfere with someone else’s line is with those ‘remove a card’ special effects, though being able to use those lock abilities to counter this is also pretty fun!
Most of the time you’re just chugging along working on your own line. Don’t get tunnel vision though - you’ll want to keep an eye on what your opponents are doing in case you need to derail their plans, or to make sure you don’t discard a card with an ability on it that they may be able to use to win, or whether you need to discard a card that has a matching ability to one already on the table to remove a card they might have wanted to use (see, I told you there was a little more thinking to it!)
It’s also really quick. Although the box advises 15-30 minutes playing time, we’ve been having 5-10 minute games at most. This may be because we’re comfortable with the rules of the game and playing mostly at two players, which speeds up any game, but it’s worth noting that 30 minutes seems like a stretch to me. Regardless, you definitely won’t mind the gap between your turns - there is very little downtime in Game of Trains. With only two actions available to you each turn, even those players that agonise over their choices can’t take too long.
On the flip side, of course, is the fact that this game isn’t particularly deep. Don’t get me wrong, you’re likely to find more strategy here than you first assume, but if you’re looking for something crunchy to play with a whole host of other gamers, there is not a lot of depth here for you. It can feel limiting in the fact that if you don’t want to use an available ability, your only other option is a random card drawn from the deck that must be placed somewhere in your line.
I can’t blow the whistle on this review without talking about the theme and artwork. Realistically, the theme could be anything, but with plenty of filler card games not really bothering with a theme at all, I appreciated the effort. The artwork, however, is something else entirely. It really is lovely. I got a real steampunk / Mad Max kind of vibe and I love it. There are also some awesome pop culture nods thrown in on some of the cards that I didn’t even notice the first time we played. Keep your eyes peeled and you may spot a certain Knight Rider automobile and a famous Iron Throne, among quite a few others.
This great small card game is just the ticket for us. Its lack of options and depth mean it won’t be for everyone but with a small, portable footprint and rules that are easy to teach it works really well with a variety of groups and there is enough strategy (and lovely artwork) here to keep me enjoying it for a while.