Munich; the land of beer, beer, and more beer! But what interest can Oktoberfest possibly hold when you can be the CEO of your very own Bavarian tram business? Welcome, everyone, to the late 1800s and the world of Trambahn!
This is a set collection game with a clever twist! Trambahn forms part of Lookout Games’ successful 2-player series and one in which you are racing to pack your ever technologically advancing tramline with more passengers than your opponent in order to score points and be crowned the top tram tycoon!
Woah there horsey; electricity has come to town!
Set up is pretty straightforward but you will need some table space. Begin by shuffling the cards depicting Stations and Conductors and place them in a tall stack face down on the table (money side up) – this will form the main draw pile for the game.
Place the Tram cards (horses at the top running down to electric at the bottom) within reach and reveal the first three cards and then lay out the four Terminal Station cards in a single vertical column on the opposite side to the draw pile. The first player will take 12 cards from the draw pile (representing 12,000 marks) and the scoring pad (lucky duck!) with the remaining player taking 15 (15,000 marks) as their starting capital.
Finally, each player takes 6 more cards from the draw pile into their hand and that’s it; Trams away!
Before getting into the nitty-gritty of a turn, as you may have gleaned from the set-up section, the cards in the draw pile serve a number of different purposes. Knowing what they do and when to do them is key to victory in this game.
Firstly, those canny cards act as Stations which, when placed together in ascending order, create tramlines scoring you the total number of points on each run of cards (multiplied by the number on the connected Tram card). The fewer Stations you have, the more seriously your tramlines are going to flatline when it comes to scoring! Bear in mind, however, that like the seminal 2-player set collection game, Lost Cities, you can only place higher value Stations on existing tramlines – no sneaking lower value cards in between to bump up your score!
Secondly, the draw pile cards act as Passengers who have the power to trigger a scoring phase for tramlines matching their own colour.
And finally, if those hard-working draw pile cards aren’t being used as either Stations or as Passengers, then they can be thrown, Wolf of Wall Street style, into a player’s money own pile ready to be spent on Tram Cards.
I would say at the outset that purchasing Tram Cards (of which there will always be up to three to choose) is a vital step to success in this capitalist caper because each developing tramline must begin with a Tram Card. If they don’t then all the Stations along those particular lines are discarded at the end of a player’s turn before they get a chance to score. As a result, players are going to face tough choices throughout the game between keeping cards, playing cards, and converting cards into cold, hard cash.
And so, having blinded you with cards, cards, and more cards, let’s turn to, well, a turn!
Turning the Tram
On each go, a player will place up to 2 of their 6 cards as Passengers along any one or two of the colour coded Terminal Station rows. After that, they can choose whether to place any of their remaining cards as Stations, convert their remaining cards into cash, keep them in their hand for the next round, and/or use their capital to purchase one or more Tram cards to lock in a tramline for the rest of the game. At the end of their turn, that player will replenish their hand of 6 cards from the draw pile.
Surprisingly, a player can create multiple tramlines of the same colour and each will be counted repeatedly during the 10 scoring phases if the colours match the 4 Passengers pulling the whistle. But, whilst a player can buy more than one Tram Card on their turn (hello Moneybags!), they must be able to attach each one to an existing tramline immediately; players cannot stockpile Trams like lockdown loo rolls ready to receive Station cards in later rounds.
Eight random draw pile cards also depict Conductors and players can decide whether these fickle fellows are going to press hard on the accelerator pedal by acting as Passengers to trigger a scoring phase or to act as Stations to bump up the number of cards in a tramline to 8 in order to trigger a bonus scoring “extra tour”.
Tramtastic or Tramesty?
Trambahn is a game which cleverly combines a number of races twisting together to propel one player to the top of the trams whilst their opponent languishes on the streetcar scrapheap. Once players get into the swing of the game, it plays fast and, although the fist balling moments are common, because of the rate at which fresh scoring phases take place, thankfully don’t frustrate either player for too long.
Overall, Trambahn is a fun set collection game with a unique twist. Running parallel to the desperate push to stretch your own tramlines from Hof to Oberdtorf in order to achieve high scores, is the counterbalancing need to strategically hit the brake pedal and slow the rate at which Passengers are getting up close and personal at the Terminals. If they start partying on colour matching your itsy-bitsy-teenie-weenie tramlines, your scores are going to tank that round and your opponent is going to know this. Throw in the additional need to decide between laying Stations and generating cash to buy Trams and Trambahn becomes a serious case of mo’ money, mo’ problems.
Published back in 2015, I must confess that I only discovered this game recently and I can see why it may have fallen off the player radar. Whilst the game revolves around trams, this could be considered a little too “dry” in today’s multi-dimensional, kaleidoscopic gaming universe. Luck of the draw also impacts the rate at which players can build up tramlines early in the game and this can skew the balance if suitable tactics aren’t deployed to mitigate the disparity.
Ultimately, however, Trambahn could be a great addition for those looking for something which takes the essential gameplay of Lost Cities and swaps out the seriously punishing scoring element for some interesting trammy twists! On that basis, if you are looking for a tactical two-player multi-purpose card game, then Trambahn could punch your ticket!