James To My Friends
String Railway: Transport is published by OKAZU Brand and is for 2 to 5 players and plays in 30 to 75 minutes.
I am a big fan of String Railway. It mixes the obvious novelty and originality of using lengths of string as the tracks with some excellent other mechanisms. I loved how stations were added by players during the game, each with their own usage limitations and points scoring. It made the game incredibly organic, tactical and surprisingly brutal as players blocked each other and protected valuable stations. I always wanted to add some sort of pick-up and deliver element to the game, to give it back a bit more of that railway feel. Of course as soon as String Railway: Transport was announced I was on it like a shot, desperate to secure a pre-order. Obviously I was ecstatic to pick it up at Essen 2012.
The box and rule book.
The game itself comes in a small yellow rectangular box with a cartoony design that alludes to the cubes to be delivered as part of the game. Fans of String Railway will also spot the rabbit traveller atop the train that features on all the station cards of the original game.
Inside the little box is the rules, printed a couple of A4 sheets in English, German and Japanese, a bag of cubes, a set of square cards, 4 small plastic discs, and the eponymous strings. Opening the box gave the same gasp of joy that open String Railway gives. The beautifully packed stack of strings of various colours is enough to make your heart melt immediately.
As with the original String Railway the rules are well written and are clear and easy to follow. There are a few diagrams scattered throughout but do a great job of explaining the concepts. There is only one part that requires a few scans through for it to make sense, and that is the long distance cube delivery routes. It's a fairly complicated rule that takes a while to sink in. More on that later though.
First thoughts and a short comparison with String Railway
Initially, upon reading the rules, I was a little disappointed with String Railway: Transport. Yes it had the strings and the cities scattered across the field of play, but the actual rules were completely different. This game isn't the original String Railways with a pick-up and delivery mechanism. In Transport most of the stations are placed in the field of play during setup. Each player has just one city to place during the actual game. For me this was what disappointed me the most it the station placement was where a lot of tactical play came from. In Transport the cities themselves don't score but are either coloured and pre-filled with cubes or outskirts and are white and start with no cubes.
Points are scored at the end of the game for collecting sets of differently coloured cubes.
What a player does in the game?
During each of the five rounds of the game a player will place one string to connect two or more stations. Connecting to a previously unconnected outskirt station causes new cubes to be placed on that station. As in the standard delivery mechanism you are then looking to deliver cubes to stations of a matching colour. Once delivered you keep the cube. This cube is the scored at the end of the game or can also be traded in during the game for some additional flexibility.
The driving force of the game is action points. Players start with 3 action points, encapsulated by a small locomotive. At the end of each turn you are able to spend action points to upgrade your locomotive and thus gain more action points. Action points are used for a couple of purposes. Firstly it costs action points to cross strings (such as other players rails or the mountain range string), there is no negative scoring for crossing strings like in the original. Secondly it costs action points to deliver a cube, with each station the cube enters as it crosses your network costing one point. A cube can only travel along your own strings from source to destination, there is no paying another player to use their tracks.
In a turn there are also some extra possibilities. One is to spend an action point to draw to cubes from the bag and place these on any one station you wish. Another is hand in a cube you have collected to gain an extra action point. A third is to place the one city you hold into the field of play along with three randomly drawn cubes on it. This new city is allocated a colour from a limited selection and so becomes a new source and destination tile. It is also critical for delivering white cubes along what is know as a long distance route. White cubes are useful because they are wildcards to be used in the sets scored at the end of the game.
Now, here comes the difficult bit, so please hold in there. Long distance routes are defined on cards, with each player receiving 1 card at the start of the game. If the card is unresolved it is worth -2 points at the end of the game. Now then here is how the long distance card works. It defines a route made up of three colours in a specific order and ends at the player's new city. A white cube must be moved along the route in order to gain the reward of 5 points and the white cube that was delivered. The route can also be started part way through, but must then be completed to the player's new city. These shorter routes then have lower rewards.
How does it play?
My initial disappointment at this not being as similar to the original as I hoped have been completely replaced by utter joy at this game. I now celebrate the differences, indeed I am glad it is such a different game. I couldn't choose a favourite between the two as they are so different. They are common in that they use strings as rails and a game lasts 5 rounds with a player placing one string per round, but that's it.
It's a slight shame there is no river in Transport, but that nature of the game components means it's easy to add one if you want. I love what they've done with the mountain though. There is only one green station in the game, which must be placed in the mountains. Therefore delivering a green cube requires a player place strings into the mountains, at the cost of one extra action point. It adds a nice little dynamic to the game.
Despite the additional rules complexity of Transport it can play as quickly as the original. The focus is purely on delivering the cubes, and the possibilities are easy to spot. Blocking is possible by circling stations and laying next to other strings, but the cost to cross being only one action point it is just an annoyance and less of a problem than in the original. The station limitations of the original also meant that stations as well as strings could be used to block so sometimes amongst the analyst paralysis crew, a turn could really drag out. That's not so much the case with Transport.
There are some nice choices to make in this game, but those are decisions that are common to many pick-up and deliver games. There's always a race to some cubes, and doing the replenishment action is always tough as your opponents can soon swoop in and steal them from under your nose. I seem to get caught out like that quite a lot.
This game has a great blend of charm and game-play. The simplicity of the string placement and cube delivery makes this game very accessible and a lot of fun. The very nature of the random game setup and strings gives the game a very real railway feel and very organic progression. The routes a never as static and predictable as in map based games.
Overall, I would recommend this game to anyone who can get their hands on it, even if you also have String Railways. I've played this with family, casual gamers, and more serious gamers and all have enjoyed it.
Yes, Beware the Geek bringing gifts!
I so want this game!
I've been wanting this since I heard about it, still waiting for the english printing of the original game. Sounds like a lot of fun.