Rail Pass is one of those games that has ‘the look’. It’s not overwrought with minis, it’s not a blinged-out Kickstarter. Set it up on the table and you’ll start to draw attention.
If you’re going to play Rail Pass in a crowded place, then you better like attention. Never have we drawn such a crowd as we did when trying this game at SHUX – a board game convention in Vancouver. With passive aggressive shouts of “Toot-Toot”, dramatic rail crashes and crazy laughter. You’ll draw a crowd and then you’ll play again with new found friends who want to get in on the fun.
There are six towns in Rail Pass, each in a different colour and with one large train and one small train. The game plays 2-6 players, and the six towns will be shared between all players. Each town starts with a selection of goods cubes in five colours. All of the colours in the game less the matching colour of the town. The goal is to get as many cubes as you can back to their matching town within the game’s time limit.
The game is played in real time, with players simultaneously working together towards the common goal. The goods in your town are arranged, randomly in a single line. Goods can only be taken and loaded onto trains from either end of the line. Once you’ve loaded a train, you assign a driver and pass the train along an allowable route to another player or town. The route has to be passable, not blocked and might be through a cardboard bridge, which just adds to the dexterity element. BUT, you can’t put the train down. Trains either need to be in a player’s hand or in the station. You must shout ‘Toot-Toot’ to signal that someone needs to grab the train from you.
If a train is left stranded it crashes and is out of the game, along with all of the goods on board. Additionally, if a driver ends up too far from home, then that driver is out of the game too. At the end of the game, there are penalty points for these mistakes, which are deducted from your total. Your positive points total is define by multiplying the total number of matching good in the two worst cities together. A net total over 100 points wins the game.
Something to Toot-Toot About?
We played Rail Pass three times in quick succession – something we never do with games. The first game was a mess. In the second game we squeezed a win with two players. In our third game we gained two extra players and it was back to losing again. There’s definitely a learning curve and it takes some time to settle into a good ‘group think’, but we might start to find it too easy on the basic setting. However, I’m more than excited to try out the advanced variant, as soon as we can get our hands on a copy.
With the time limit, you’re definitely thinking on your feet. However, you can be extremely clever in the ways you do things. Passing a train to a friend who has a spare hand whilst you have a bunch of stuff going on is a fantastic strategy. It’s OK for one person to be holding onto four trains – two on their board and one in each hand. This works so long as they don’t want to rearrange any goods cubes.
There’s so much angst in the game because you really need to think at time. Yet you can get into a really fun flow. Keeping track of your drivers has definitely been the thing to catch us out the most often. This is as it’s the least intuitive bit of the game that really flies in the face of the pace of real time.
Rail Pass really makes you exercise your teamwork skills. You don’t need to communicate, so much as work as a really well-oiled machine. If you enjoy real-time games then Rail Pass is definitely a superb pick. Its component quality is a little strange, but it still manages to be eye-catching. If not ear-catching for those in your vicinity!
Final Thoughts on Rail Pass
Who knew that real time, cooperative, pick-up and deliver, dexterity games were a winning recipe?! I think you have to love real time and a bit of chaos to play Rail Pass, but fortunately we do and it’s a superb 10 minute game. It really works for any crowd, provides enough challenge, makes you think, makes you cooperate and, most importantly, makes you laugh. It was a huge surprise hit for us.