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Tramways» Forums » Reviews

Subject: First Impressions and comparisons to Age of Steam rss

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Brian Pierce
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Aarhus
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I had the opportunity to play a 3 player game of Tramways this week, and I thought I would share my thoughts about the game since I know that there are many people eagerly waiting to get their hands on their Kickstarter copies. In addition, I wanted to share my thoughts about how this game relates to Age of Steam (a classic game and one I rate very highly).


A beautiful box cover (image credit to Mikko Häkkinen - McHaka)

Summary:

I really, really enjoyed this game! It shares many similarities with Age of Steam and also adds many unique twists and its own flavor to the route building/delivery genre of games. The multi-use card play, optimization of the actions on your cards, and deckbuilding work beautifully with the route building on the board. Alban Viard has created a beautiful and well-designed game that I can see quickly becoming a favorite of mine.

Brief Rules Summary:

For each game, a variable board set up will be made using tiles and each player will receive 7 cards in their hand. The game is played over 6 rounds with 3 phases per round: Auction, Actions, and Administration. In the auction phase, players use a unique auction mechanic to bid for turn order and selection of a new card for their hand. In the actions phase, each player will take one turn and then each player will take 2 turns back-to-back. The possible actions are build/upgrade rails, build/upgrade buildings, or move a passenger. In the final phase players can earn bonuses (money, rail workers, decrease stress, or passengers) from the cards still left in their hand. This is repeated until the final round (6) in which players are allowed to create their desired hand for the round by filling up to their hand size from their deck/discard. The player with the most happiness points wins!


Citizens waiting to be delivered (image credit to Bruno Valerio - Oblivion)

Pros:

Multi-use card play – This is a major component of the game and it works wonderfully. Tramways in a deck-builder and players will build a collection of multiuse cards that they play throughout the game. Each card features 1-4 actions that can either be used in the Action phase or the Administration phase. Most cards also feature a ticket and can be used to deliver passengers, and some cards also feature negative consequences that must be paid when playing/discarding the card. For a given turn, a player can play as many cards as they want from their hand to take an action. You always are allowed to use one action on each card for free, but you are welcome to stress yourself (see below) to use multiples on a card. This will often happen because each action typically requires multiple “icons” from the card, so players will be forced to choose between using several cards or using a smaller number of cards but taking stress. A huge part of the game is figuring out how to use the actions on your cards. You will often find that you NEED to use the Commercial icon on one card to build a route, but then realize that you also NEED to keep the rail worker icon on that card to restock during the admin phase. This really works wonderfully, the iconography is well done, and it creates great meaningful decisions all game.

Modularity of the board - A wonderful part about the game is that the map is randomly generated each game. Players are able to tweak the difficulty with two sides to each map tile and also have many combinations of layout that will dramatically affect the game. This is a wonderful element and will keep the game fresh and exciting each play. It also leaves plenty of room for possible expansion tiles in the future to mix things up (hint hint Alban).

Innovative auction mechanic – The auction in Tramways is quite unique (at least to me). It goes around the table in player order (like many other auctions), but you do not have to outbid all other players. Instead you are welcome to bid any value that hasn’t been bid by the players before you in turn order or by yourself on your last bid. This can mean that player 1 bids $1, player 2 bids $8, and player 3 bids $2. Since no one has passed it goes around again: Player 1 bids $2 (allowed because he is before player 3 in turn order), Player 2 automatically becomes first player for next round because he has the highest bid, and Player 3 bids $1. The auction will then keep going. It may be hard to tell from that brief write-up but essentially players just need to stay in the auction to get a better turn order slot. This could mean that someone might end up with a better turn order slot even though they paid less than those behind them. This really feels unique and adds some cool timing elements to the auction. However, this dynamic will be lost in a 2 player game because you will need to outbid your opponent to get first player.

Stress – The game allows you to take on stress (negative points at the end of the game) to use multiple action icons on a given card. This can be quite tempting if you need to build a long route or really need multiple icons on a single card. Players also earn stress by delivering to commercial and industrial buildings and it might also be earned through negative card effects. Players will be able to reduce this stress using card actions in the Administration phase or by delivering citizens to residential buildings. Each player will need to figure out the best way to manage their stress in the game. This is a fun mechanic that forces players to keep an eye on the stress levels of all of their opponents. It is similar in many ways to the pollution in another Alban Viard game, Small City. It does a wonderful job of tempting players by starting out with minor points losses, but very quickly ramps up to be extremely costly if it isn’t repaired by game end.

Weak & strong Cards – The auction for turn order is very important because players will choose cards from an auction display in turn order. Some of these cards are good and some are just plain bad (negative effects, costly void cards, very minor benefits). This adds great tension to the auctions and actually makes them matter, even when the board is still fairly wide open.


Look at all of those pretty routes (image credit to Wouter Debisschop - rascozion)

Cons:

Rulebook can be a bit dense – We found the rulebook to be thorough, but it is quite dense to get through. There are good examples which is appreciated, but it can be a bit of work to get up and running right out of the box. Once you are playing, the ruleset isn’t very complicated, but note that you will need to put some focus into the rules reading the first time around.

Cards = luck of the draw – This isn’t really a con for me, but I imagine it will be for some players. Players have a great deal of control over how many cards they add to their deck, what cards they add, and how many cards they carry over each turn. However, there may come a time when you are desperate to build a building on a given turn, and you just don’t draw the cards that will allow it. To mitigate this, players also get to immediately add new cards they acquire on a turn (by building buildings or delivering to commercial spaces) to their hand and can use them on a future action. Players also can mitigate this by building their deck with versatile cards that provide flexibility.

Set up of decks – Again this is a minor complaint, but the initial set up of the game decks is a bit of an annoyance. Cards need to be sorted, each player gets starting cards, plot cards matching the map need to be collected, each player gets 4 of these cards, the remainder are shuffled into another deck, …. It isn’t terrible, but there is a bit of set up work that needs to be done and it will take a little while to go through the dense set up instructions on your first play.

Comparisons to Age of Steam:


The classic (image credit to W. Eric Martin)

Tramways shares many similarities to the classic game Age of Steam (AoS), and this is no surprise, as game designer Alban Viard has designed several AoS maps over the years. However, there are several key differences between the games. Tramways maintains the same general ideas of an auction for player order, competition to build track and deliver valuable goods, and network building. There is no denying that the game gives off a definite AoS feel, but it also feels quite unique. The largest difference here is that Tramways is driven by the multi-use card play of the players. What actions you can take and where you can take actions (i.e. what stations you can deliver to or what buildings can you upgrade) are all dictated by the cards in your hand or the cards you acquire during your turns. For the die-hard AoS player, this change may be unwelcome as it introduces an element of luck to the game. While players have a good deal of control over managing their hand and what cards they add to their deck, there will be times where you are unable to performed your desired action due to the cards.

In AoS, each player has a locomotive rating that dictates how many connections they can make while delivering goods. This concept does not exist in Tramways and the only limit to large deliveries early on is the building of track. However, this doesn’t “feel” very different because of the clever game design element of the rail workers. Building track in Tramways can be expensive. To make a connection you need a certain number of track building icons, one of the buildings of the connection, and a rail worker. A player can only ever have at most 2 of these rail workers and they can become a valuable resource in the game. This puts the brakes on excessive track building early on and helps to naturally pace the game in the same way that the locomotive rating might in AoS.

Another significant difference is the fact that all passengers in Tramways can be delivered to any color building. In AoS a red cube must be delivered to a red city, and players are looking to make the longest delivery of this cube. In Tramways a citizen can be delivered to any color city and the choice of city may not always be the one that is the farthest away. The four building colors (red, blue, yellow, and green) provide variable powers upon delivery (buy points for money, take money/a card, gain a rail worker, or reduce stress). This adds more flexibility to the deliveries in Tramways and can make it easier for another player to take a valuable citizen from you. Tramways also significantly simplifies the “restocking” of buildings with new passengers. Instead of the cube chart and die rolling of AoS, players will know in advance which of the 4 building colors will restock in rounds 1-5.

Another difference is the fact that empty plots of land where new buildings are built in Tramways are owned by a specific player. The owner is the only one that can build a building (same as a city in AoS) on this plot. This lowers the potential for your opponents upgrading a city on your route to block a valuable delivery, and thus removes a bit of the aggressive nature that can be found in AoS.

Lastly, there are differences in how variability is handled between the games. In AoS, the variability comes from the 150+ unique maps that have been designed for the game as well as the random distribution of cubes to start the game. The different maps provide layout changes, rule changes, are optimized for certain numbers of players, etc. In Tramways (so far) the variability comes from a randomly built board each game. You are able to tweak the difficulty or even change the design a bit to affect the game. Tramways will also naturally feature variability based on the way certain cards come into the game.

Overall, I would say that the games are similar but have a different feel due to the differences above. I believe that Tramways “feels” a bit less cutthroat when compared to AoS. The card play certainly gives this game a different dynamic and introduces a wonderful optimization puzzle as players try to figure out how to use their cards each turn.

Conclusion:

I can highly recommend this game! Alban Viard has crafted a well-designed game that I think will appeal to both AoS players and others that enjoy more typical modern Euro games. The ruleset isn’t complex once you understand it and every action is filled with tension and tough decision making. The game doesn’t overstay its welcome and the map size scales well for the number of players. While some of the auction dynamics will be lost in a two player game, the main features of card play and route building should scale very well. I couldn’t be happier that I backed this game on Kickstarter and added it to my collection. A beautiful game that you need to try!
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Eduardo Cruz
Portugal
Arcozelo - Vila Nova de Gaia
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Amazing review. Like the game itself.

You didn't talk about the "B" side of your player board, that gives only one rail worker and squeeze the stress track, given a higher cutthroat felling to the game.

The agonizing decisions you'll have to do along the game, given the cards you have in hand, are the unique characteristic of this rail building game.

One of the best game of 2016 for sure.
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I love Age of Steam and not you have put this game on my list of games I want to try. Thanks!
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David Gibbs
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Quote:
In AoS, the variability comes from the 150+ unique maps that have been designed for the game.


In AoS variability, even without map changes, comes from the initial random distribution of cubes on the map. This can greatly change the options in the game.
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Brian Pierce
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dagibbs wrote:
Quote:
In AoS, the variability comes from the 150+ unique maps that have been designed for the game.


In AoS variability, even without map changes, comes from the initial random distribution of cubes on the map. This can greatly change the options in the game.


Excellent point. I will add that to the review
 
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Morten K
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Well put Brian. It's an excellent review. Looking at how Viard likes to tinker with variants and mini-expansions I'd be surprised if he does not come up with something for Tramways as well.
 
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Claudio Coppini
Germany
Frankfurt am Main
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Great review!

Does anyone have an opinion on the solo variant?
 
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A K Vikhagen
Sweden
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I like the solo variant - I think it's very similar to his other solo variants: I would compare it to the variant in Small City in particular, which I like a lot. The drafting (auctioning) of the cards is clever and you are left with a similar puzzle to the multi-player game, apart from the competition and the possibility to piggy-back on other's routes.
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Claudio Coppini
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tilde72 wrote:
I like the solo variant - I think it's very similar to his other solo variants: I would compare it to the variant in Small City in particular, which I like a lot. The drafting (auctioning) of the cards is clever and you are left with a similar puzzle to the multi-player game, apart from the competition and the possibility to piggy-back on other's routes.


Cheers! Seriously considering picking up this one then.
 
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