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I am a budding yet avid railroad gamer and TransAmerica fits firmly into the "filler" game area of my collection while still maintaining a railroading theme, slim as it is. This review will cover the base game plus the Vexation expansion.
TransAmerica is a game for 2 to 6 players in which the players attempt to connect cities on a map of the US using their opponents railroads.
The components in TransAmerica are good for the price point. In the box you get a mounted board of the United States, a deck of cards in five colors that depict the cities on the map you will be connecting, six sets of player pieces in different colors (a train marker, a marker to denote your starting city, and three colored sticks for use with the Vexation expansion), and a number of black sticks that represent the railroad tracks.
The player pieces and railroad pieces are wooden and of the quality you would expect from a game that uses wooden pieces like these. Think of Catan and you will have a good idea of the quality of the pieces.
The cards are the small size that come with the original Ticket to Ride game and are functional. The card quality and size is good for a game that is very portable and light and meant to be played quickly.
The board is colorful and easy to read making for a very useful, functional game board. It is made up of a bunch of lines that connect to each other and to the cities on the board. These lines are where you will be placing track. The features on the board (mountains, rivers, etc..) are easy to see and nice to look at without being distracting. A nice board all around.
Overall, the game components are of good quality and I wouldn't want anything better as that would only serve to raise the price, which is fine where it is for a game like this.
The gameplay in TransAmerica is very simple and therefore straightforward and easy to teach! At the beginning of the game you will shuffle and grab one card of each color that depicts one of the cities in each section of the board. These are cities you must connect during the round. On your first turn you select where you want your railroad to start and place your cylindrical marker there. You may then place one or two tracks on the lines on the board. You may place two pieces of track if only crossing plains or one piece if crossing a mountain or river. Play then proceeds until someone has connected all five of their cities.
The game uses a backwards scoring method. Instead of gaining points you are trying not to lose points and want to end up with the most points at the end of the game. Once the end of the round has been reached, each player adds up the number of spaces it would take to finish connecting their remaining cities. The player that ended the round loses no points. Each player starts at 12 points so games usually take about three rounds to end.
You may be thinking that this sounds fine, but boring. There is a twist here. Players need to make use of their opponents railroads to win the game. Here is where the player interaction comes in and where the game gets interesting. Decision points in this game involve examining where your opponents are placing track and how your track may be helping them achieve their goals. You want to find a way to make your opponents have to place track over mountains and across rivers while being able to place your own across plains. With five or six players this becomes quite a task!
Another small kink that can be thrown into the game is the Vexation expansion. This is a small expansion that adds a little more interaction to the game and, in my opinion, a lot more fun. This where those three colored pieces of track will come into play. If you place a colored track in place of a normal black track, no other player will be able to cross it. Thus, you will be forcing your opponents to spend an extra turn playing around your colored piece. This seemingly small hurdle can sometimes hurt in a big way, especially once multiple players are thrown into the mix all sprinkling their colored tracks in strategic places across the board. It is important to note, however, that nobody will ever be completely crippled. This is a good thing.
I find TransAmerica to be a rather fun little filler game that can be played with anyone. The game can be played rather quickly at 30 or 40 minutes depending on who you are playing with and supports a wide range of player numbers. On the downside, the game is very simple and is not all that fun with less than four. I actually prefer to play with five or six as the interaction with others is what makes this game shine. I first played this game with three players and did not think too highly of it. I had the same feeling with four and thought I may try to get rid of it. The next time I played was with six and opinion of the game changed completely. It is now one of my preferred fillers. It is not something I will play all the time, but it can be quite fun with the right numbers. I recommend this game to anyone who is looking for a short, simple filler game with some player interaction. If you are into a railroad theme, this may be a little higher on the list!
7 out of 10