First Class: Orient Express

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In First Class: Orient Express, players try to score as many fame points as possible by building a rich network of rails, by building luxurious train cars, or by serving well-paying passengers. First Class is a card game that feels more like a board game, and since each game is played with the base cards and two of five modules, the game offers lots of variety as not all elements ar…
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Awards

Dice Tower

Rating

  • Artwork
  • Complexity
  • Replayability
  • Player Interaction
  • Component Quality

You Might Like

  • Quick play time.
  • Interesting choices when choosing the cards.
  • Various modules keep the game fresh.

Might Not Like

  • Module C isn't great with two players.
  • Takes up a fair amount of table space.
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Description

In First Class Orient Express, players try to score as many fame points as possible by building a rich network of rails, by building luxurious train cars, or by serving well-paying passengers.

First Class is a card game that feels more like a board game, and since each game is played with the base cards and two of five modules, the game offers lots of variety as not all elements are used in each playing.

  • Ages 10+
  • 1-4 Players
  • 60 Minutes playing time

Helmet Ohley was one of the designers of Russian Railroads, which was released in 2013. Keeping with the train theme, he was back in 2016 with First Class: All Aboard the Orient Express.

First Class is a 1-4 player card game, where each player takes on a railway company building the most luxurious train carriages to attract the richest customers. Players will earn points by increasing their train (each player has two trains) by adding and upgrading their carriages, moving their conductor along the carriages, adding train routes to their player board and moving their train along the routes.

All the cards are taken from a general supply and the game is player over six rounds. First Class comes with three base modules that are used in every game and then a further two out of five modules are shuffled in to the base modules. The game has a lot of ways to score points, is a pretty quick playing (20 minutes per player, maybe even faster if you know what you are doing) and has a lot of replay-ability with the different modules.

Gameplay

Set-Up

Each player is given a player board, one coin (which is placed on the coin track on the player board) three conductors (one for each train and one for scoring), one locomotive placed on the corresponding space on the player board, four mail cards, and two x zero point train cards.

The base modules for round one, two and three are shuffled with the two modules that are being played with (to form three piles of action cards) and set aside, along with the score track, end of game scoring cards, coins and all other pieces.

The action cards for round one are set out in three rows of six cards to form the supply.

A Player’s Turn

On a player’s turn they can do one of two main actions:

  1. Either take the first player token ensuring that they will become the first player at the start of the next round. The first player to do this gets a two coin bonus and then the other players receive a bonus depending on the new player order. If a player takes the start player token, no other actions are performed by the player and a card is discarded from the supply.
  2. A player can take one of the action cards available from the supply and perform the displayed action. The cards provide actions that a person can perform and depending on the modules using vary considerably (more on the modules later). If a player takes an action card they can choose to not perform the action and instead upgrade one of their carriages.

Play then passes to the next player. When the number of cards taken from a given row is equal to the number of player, then the remaining cards in that row are immediately discarded. Once all rows have been discarded the round ends and the general supply is repopulated with the remaining cards for the stage, forming another three rows of six cards.

Once this has occurred twice (i.e. two rounds of level one action cards) there is a scoring round. For example, rounds one and two will be played with the level one action cards and then scored. Rounds three and four will be played with level two action cards and then scored. Rounds five and six will be played with level three action cards and then final scoring takes place. The player with the most points wins.

Base Module

The base modules, used in every game of First Class, allow players to add new carriages to their trains, move their conductor, upgrade their train carriages, add new route maps to their board and move their train.

When adding new carriages to a train the carriage is always added to the end of one of the current trains. When the fifth carriage is placed, a mail carriage (from the player’s personal supply) is added, granting the player a specific bonus. When the ninth carriage is added, a locomotive tile is added and can grant the player extra victory points at the end of the game (assuming a conductor gets that far).

Each train can only have a maximum of 10 carriages. In addition if a conductor does it make to the end of the train carriages it represents the train reaching Constantinople and earns the title of “The Orient Express.” In gameplay terms, this gives the first three conductors who reaches Constantinople bonus victory points.

When moving the conductor, it moves from left to right, along the length of a player’s train. When scoring points at the end of rounds two, four and six, it is only the carriages that the conductor has visited that score. If players focus on upgrading their train carriages (see below) or increasing the number of carriages but neglect to move the conductor they are not going to score many points.

When a new train carriage is placed it is worth zero points (unless a card action states otherwise), for it to score it needs to be upgraded. The upgrade carriage action allows players to do this, according to a set number of rules. Any carriage can be upgraded from 0-1, 1-2, 2-4, 4-7, 7-12 and must be upgraded from left to right. No carriage can be of a higher value than the one to the left. Some of the action cards let you do specific upgrades (i.e. upgrade a two carriage to a four carriage), whereas some of the other cards let you upgrade any carriage (Still following the upgrade restrictions)

The route maps allow players to extend the rail network that their train is on. These route networks give players one-off victory points and bonuses at each scoring round. But, to activate these players need to move their train along the route. Bonuses include train upgrades, conductor movement, train carriages and train movements. As these bonuses activate every scoring round they can be very beneficial to the player.

The base module also contains contracts which, if a player meets the specified requirements, they gain a bonus. Contracts can also help with end game scoring.

Each game also contains Game End cards which are effectively extra ways for scoring points. The victory point value on the cards is multiplied by the number of cards of the respective action that have been taken and added to the players score on the score board.

Module A – Contracts

This module simply adds extra contracts in to the game. These contracts work the same as the contracts in the base module.

Module B – Celebrities and Postcards

This module adds additional ways to score points during the scoring rounds with celebrity cards and postcards. Celebrities offer a X2 bonus to any rail carriage that they’re added to. They must be added to the left most available carriage and double the score of the carriage during the scoring round. The postcards are added to any card on the train route and offer double the bonuses (not the victory points) that the card offers.

Module C – First Class Murder

As the name suggests, this module adds a murder in to the game and probably offers the biggest change to the game. When taking certain cards players may receive/give evidence tokens containing finger prints. The player with the most fingerprints at the end of the game is eliminated. If this player is the murderer, then they have been successfully captured. If the arrested player was innocent and the murder escaped, then they receive 20 additional points. The player with the most victory points from those remaining wins.

There are ways to mitigate the evidence tokens that a player accumulates with other card actions and tokens. The cards in the module that give a player evidence tokens offer good bonuses/rewards. But if a player takes too many, or doesn’t mitigate the evidence they might end up getting eliminated. Balancing the evidence tokens and the good action cards is required.

Module D – Passengers and Luggage

This module adds passenger and luggage cards in to the game. These cards are added to the train carriages to the left most available carriage (in a similar way to the celebrities in Module B). Passengers are added to the top train and luggage to the bottom train. Passengers needed to “take their seats” and the luggage needs to be “loaded” by meeting a certain set of conditions before the player receives the respective bonus. The bonuses range from coins, new carriages and victory points.

Module E – Switches and Mechanics

Switches and mechanic cards are added in the space between the two trains and effect both the top and bottom train carriages. As with the other modules they must be added to the left most empty middle space. However, unlike other modules switches and mechanics can be replaced if a player chooses. The conductor must have moved past the relevant train carriage for the bonus/reward to activate assuming the conditions are met.

Coins

During the course of the game players will receive money from action cards, train movements and bonus actions. The coins are stored on the players board and are filled up in a specific order. Coins must be added to the lowest leftmost space, once a column is complete players can begin to fill the next column. Coins can be spent at any point during a players turn and from any column

Column one allows a player to take a 0-value train carriage for one coin. Column two allows a player a conductor or train one space for one coin. Column three allows a player to upgrade a train carriage. In addition players can spend four coins to take a Game End card and each coin is worth one victory point.

My Train of Thoughts on First Class

First Class by name and first class by nature. I really enjoy this game.

The card selection mechanic offers some tough choices. When a certain number of cards have been taken from a row, that row is discarded. It’s important that players are paying attention to what card their opponents might need. If played right, players can force a row to be discarded so that another player doesn’t get that one card that will really help them. It has an element of hate drafting (not sure if that is the right term, but hopefully you get what I mean) if players decide to play that way. The nice thing is that First Class does not force this on you and it is up to the player if they want to take a sub-standard card to deny another play a good card. Or take another card that will help them but leave a great card available for their opponent.

First Class plays very quick, the box states 20 minutes per player, but for people who are familiar with the game I think this will be less, especially once the iconography is understood (which to be fair is pretty clear and easy to understand). There are enough decisions in the game for it appeal to the enthusiast gamer as well as having a simple enough rule set to introduce to new gamers. There are different strategies and gameplay depending on the modules you are using and what route a player wants to down. The variety of modules keeps it fresh each time you play.

The base modules combined with two out of the five other modules offer a nice amount of replay-ability in the game. All of the modules are interesting enough that I want would play any of them again. The only negative I would say is that Module C – First Class Murderer – doesn’t really work well with two players.

There are four “whodunit” cards that are dealt to players to determine if they are innocent or the murderer, so there is a chance that no one will actually be the murderer in the game. With just the two players the victory points from the scoring phases seems pointless. Someone will be arrested (murderer or not) and then the other player instantly wins regardless of the points scored. Having said that, Module C works fine with more players and all the other Modules are great.

So, a slight negative but not enough to put me off the game and I will most definitely be keeping this in my collection. There is already another mini-expansion available, Module F, which adds storage and factory cards and I would not be surprised to see more expansions coming out for this in the future. Another module or two will really add to the game. First Class is a fun, quick playing train game, with a decent amount of replay-ability that plays really well, seems to have flown under the radar a bit but worth checking out.

Zatu Score

Rating

  • Artwork
  • Complexity
  • Replayability
  • Player Interaction
  • Component Quality

You might like

  • Quick play time.
  • Interesting choices when choosing the cards.
  • Various modules keep the game fresh.

Might not like

  • Module C isn't great with two players.
  • Takes up a fair amount of table space.