Traintopia by Board & Dice is a bright box full of tiles, cards and wooden pieces. In it, a group of 2-4 people build their own railways by drafting tiles connecting the tracks together. Each player is hoping to make the best network with the happiest customers.
In the box you’ll find a stack of tiles that come in three flavours: starting tiles, regular tiles and special tiles. There are also some cards, tokens, wooden mail bags, people meeples and some train meeples, (train-ples)? All of this is found in a very nice and functional insert. So far so good.
On the tiles
A game of Traintopia starts with each player taking a starting tile then drafting two tiles to add to the first tile. Every player will also have a secret objective that they are trying to accomplish over the course of the game. A deck of cards is shuffled with a final round tile added to the bottom of the deck. Each round of the game will see players set out the depicted combination of wooden bits and tiles then drafting them one by one until only one is left. That is chucked back in the box and everybody can then move onto the next round.
Each tile can be placed out exactly up against a tile or offset by a half. The only rule for tile placement is that if two tiles touch the rails must match up to other rails. The tiles themselves can generally have at least one piece of railway on them. Some of them have money on them, I’ll talk about that in a bit, but they can also have various types of countryside or tourist attractions on them. These are how you score points with the meeples. The grey, yellow and green meeples are train commuters. They want something nice to look at out the window. The white maples are tourists who want to see tourist attractions.
If you draft one of these meeples you have to immediately place it on one of your railway lines and then you score it. Then if you have a commuter, you score one point for each patch of countryside that matches the colour of the meeple you are scoring. If you have a tourist, you score the value of any attractions that are next to the rails. Each of these colours can only be scored once for each line in your network.
Normally you would want to wait until your train line is complete to get the maximum amount of points. But some rounds only have two of these meeples between all of the players. Add to this the fact that the colours of the commuters are drawn randomly, and you may prefer to draft them as early. That way you can make sure your line scores something for the meeples rather than waiting and not getting the pieces you need turn up.
Bought a one-way ticket
As I mentioned before, some of the tiles have pictures of money on them. Whenever you place a tile with money on it into your network, you place a little money token on it. This money token can be used in a few ways. You can cash it in, pun sort of intended, for a special action or you can keep it on the tile to try and score some points with it at the end of the game. Your special action choices are all pretty good. You can treat a commuter meeple as if it was any other colour or you can use it to switch out your private scoring objective. Lastly, you can take one of the special tiles on top of your normal draft. These special tiles tend to have lots of the scoring countryside or tourist attractions on them.
All of these special actions will likely bag you a few points. But if you lay your rails right you could have several money bags next to one of your railway lines. If you place a train on that line you will now score points for every money token you leave on the board next to that rail line. That can be worth a lot of points if you can get enough money on the board. It’s an interesting choice and it can really pay off if you go for the strategy early and try to keep the money tokens on the board until the end of the game.
Final scoring is your standard, more points for longer railway lines. You can get extra points if your completed rail lines have different coloured stations on them. Mail bag will double the points scored for any railway line that has one on it. That is pretty much the whole game.
Pulling into the station
I’ve really enjoyed my time playing Traintopia. It’s quite nice to get lost in building your own little network. If you enjoy building roads in Carcasonne, I think you’ll like this. However, unlike Carcasonne you are all building your own little areas and not all building one big shared network. Because of this it can feel a lot more solitary. The only interaction in the game is during the drafting but that is fine. Not every game has you have you butting heads with your opponents at every opportunity.
The artwork is nice, bright and clear for the most part. I did find the values of the victory point tokens a little tricky to discern. The picture of the rails drawn behind the number is in in the same colour as the value. This isn’t really game breaking though. The meeples are a little smaller than you’re probably used to but they aren’t fiddley. They also come in a cloth bag which is very nice! The rest of the components are good, and the box inlay is good and stores everything neatly.
I’ve enjoyed playing Traintopia. It is a great game that offers some interesting choices and strategies and it is not intimidating to new players. The heavier gamer in me wishes there was a little more to it though. I would love some more interaction between the players. Maybe some other ways to score points via challenges against your opponents. But this is me just nit-picking. That said, if the game were more complicated it would lose its welcoming accessibility.
Complexity wise I would say that it is a little step above a gateway game but that little extra rules teaching needed is definitely worth it. It’s not some epic rails game that takes hours to finish, it only takes about 30 minutes to play. If you have enjoyed tile laying games like Carcasonne or Karuba I can recommend Traintopia. If you've fancied trying something that adds in a few new mechanics like drafting or hidden scoring conditions, then this is an excellent choice. And it's one which has definitely earned its place in my collection.