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A Gnome's Ponderings

I'm a gamer. I love me some games and I like to ramble about games and gaming. So, more than anything else, this blog is a place for me to keep track of my ramblings. If anyone finds this helpful or even (good heavens) insightful, so much the better.
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Climbing into the Wayback Machine to remember TransAmerica

Lowell Kempf
United States
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Let me get out the rose tinted glasses of nostalgia and take a look at a game that I got a lot of play from back in the day but who’s time as an active part of my collection seems to have passed.

There are some games that stand a good chance of always being in regular use in your collection. For me, I have a feeling that I’ll still be playing Ingenious for quite a few years to come. It’s a game I come back on a regular basis and I have yet to get bored of it. Dominion is shaping up to have a similar place in my gaming habit. Er, hobby. I meant hobby! However, there are some games that had their time but that time is over.

I’m not talking about games that you played once or twice and put away for trade or to gather dust. I’m talking about games that got played enough to prove that they were worth the time and money you spent buying and playing it. You might just have played them enough to be complete burnt out on them or reached the point where they no longer offered a challenge. Newer and shinier games that fill the same niche may have pushed them out of the way.

One game that served me well in the early years of my board game exploration was TransAmerica. I suspect that there are a lot people who have fond memories of this light, little game. At the time when I discovered it, I was just starting to get into Euro games and it was an incredibly easy one to share.

For years, I referred to TransAmerica as the navy blue blazer of my collection. It was small enough that I could always throw it in my bag, simple enough that I could explain it to just about anyone in five minutes, and engaging enough that people almost always enjoyed playing it.

Although TransAmerica is allegedly a train game, it is another victim of the paper-thin theme effect. While it is themed around building railroads, TransAmerica is such an abstract connection game that it could be about power lines or Facebook networking. Honestly, Powergrid embraces the innate concepts of the train genre better than TransAmerica.

However, if you take a look at my interests, you will note that I am big on Euro-games and abstracts so that doesn’t bother me.

The basic concept of TransAmerica is that each player is dealt five random cities that they need to connect. The board is broken into five regions to keep it from being too easy. The twist is that while your network needs to always connect to your starting piece, the network belongs to everyone. As you connect your rail lines to other player’s lines, you are creating one big network that everyone can use.

The only actual random element in the game is dealing out the cards at the start of each round. To be honest, though, that’s enough of a random factor to make a big difference, particularly with a lower number of players. In a six-player game, someone is going to have cities close to yours. In a three-player game, you could be isolated, which is a bad place to be in TransAmerica. You can’t take advantage of the overall network if it doesn’t go where you need it to go!

Amusingly enough, for a game that is so friendly to casual play and for non-gamers, the learning curve is all about learning how to use the other players and take advantage of their networks. The elements of cooperation are really parasitism

As I mentioned, I did get some nice play out of it. However, as time went on, TransAmerica faded away for me. In the end, it is a fairly light game and you can only play it so many times before the games all start to feel the same. Even the expansion, Vexation, which definitely some good depth and aggression to the game, only breathed a little new life into the game. (I still recomend playing with it, by the way)

Even though I have just gone to great length about how I no longer play the game, I still think that it was a great success in my gaming life. Any game that I rack up more than a hundred plays has definitely proven its worth! It will stay in my shelf (occasionally dusted) and is in no danger of getting traded away. Who knows? If I end up being a parent, it may end up back on the table on a regular basis.
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