Freight Train Session - 2/18/2006
Loose the Caboose?
Our group has played a number of Alan Moon's designs, notably Union Pacific, Elfenland, Ticket to Ride, and now finally, Freight Train, his card-based simulation of daily life in a train yard.(sometimes referred to as his "forgotten train game")
Freight Train strikes me as a derivative of "Ticket to Ride" but without the plastic trains and map. It is a set-collection game, in the same vein as Ticket, but with scoring based on who has the longest train of a certain type, and without the constraint of having to connect routes. In fact, one might easily argue that "Ticket to Ride" is a more elaborate, graphical re-working of Freight Train, combined with the same map and pieces from Union Pacific.
Our first play with 5 players was considered a success and we were all happily intrigued by it. There is plenty of strategy, tension, and just enough analysis required to exercize the old brain cells without feeling burned out. For the most part it is quick playing. A 5-player game can be finished in under 2 hours.
The premise behind FT is very simple: You take the role of Train Yard manager attempting to hook up freight cars onto your locomotives before the day is done and the trains depart. The manager who has hooked up the longest trains of a certain type of freight car earns the most points. The player with the greatest points at the end of three days, wins.
In order to create trains, the Yard manager must acquire them from the main freight yard, 3 at a time, placing them onto his trains or into his private freight yard. Since there is limited space in a private yard, and the number of locomotives available is few, a yard manager must carefully decide how to collect and arrange his freight cars to win the most points from a round of play. He must do this by competing for the same resources being tapped by the other players before the "end of day" card turns up in the freight deck, and scoring begins. Analysis of both the "board" (the main freight yard), the other player's yards, and the management of your own yard, are aspects which make the game the most enjoyable.
In our game, we used the optional "Caboose" rule which lets you score double on your longest trains, but preventing you from adding more cars after you do so.
The objective for all players on the first day is to maximize the number of freight cars in their private holding yards since this gives 1 point for every 2 cars. This scoring only happens on the first day. On the second day no points are awarded, and on the third day points are deducted for every car in the private yard.
After private yards were maxed out, players began the process of building trains onto their locomotives. I focused on the "coil steel" and "hopper" cars since there was an early abundance of these types evident in the main freight yard. The cars in my private yard I planned to use during the second day, so until then, they could remain where they were. Like a few players, I also set aside a locomotive to be used for the "mixed type train" which contains only one car of each different type of train. (all other trains must contain a single type of car)
The player to my left also picked up some "coil steel", either hoping to beat me, or at least come in second place with the scoring on them. He also pick up some "auto rack" cars from the main freight yard to fill things out. The remaining three players were now left with picking up leftover scraps from the main yard. These formed the basis of their lines. Player #3 went with "Refrigerator" cars, player #4 did "Stock" cars, and player #5 "Box" cars.
Turn after turn, the train building process continued, with all freight cars coming from the main freight yard. (the private holding yards never being tapped because of the first round scoring rule) Each player would always keep a keen eye on his opponents yards, since this was the key to knowing who would score what kind of train. A player might then focus on beating his opponent in a type, or concentrate on scoring different types. A third option would be to go for the "mixed train" type.
On the first day, the "mixed train" was a bit neglected by most players, with the exception of myself, who ended with the largest "mixed train" by the end of the day.
The "end of day" arrival came in the middle of a turn-order, on the third player's turn, meaning that the first two players would miss out on grabbing the remaining caboose cards to double up their scores. Consequently, the remaining three players each took a caboose, and the day ended.
First day Scores
Strategy on the second day could be classified into two camps: Empty the private yards now, or wait till the third day. (Freight in your yard on the third day is penalized -1 point per car)
Three players decided to clear their yards this turn, while the other two decided to wait till the third day. (ultimately to their disadvantage) My feeling is that its better to clear now because it gives you two days to clear instead of just one. It also removes the extra worry about not being able to clear on the third day, and you can focus on just building trains.
The second day was characterized by more "mixed trains" than in the first day. I think just about every player decided on setting up a mixed train this time, realizing the error of their earlier ways. In addition, some players jumped on the "caboose" band wagon early, with some players getting two cabooses total. In my estimation, the caboose option changes the entire complexion of the game by creating more of a mad scramble for them near the end of the day, in addition to skewing some of the point totals and creating a leader gap. I'm thinking next time we play we'll just hand one out to each player rather than allowing one player to get two.
The "end of day" card showed up at the top of the turn order this time around, resulting in everyone grabbing the remaining caboose cars to finish out their trains.
Second Day Scores:
Those players waiting till the third day to clear out their private yards eventually got stuck with several cars and nowhere to put them, costing them a point for each one. The remaining players kept their yards clear and focused on building large trains, capping them off with Cabooses at the appropriate time. Those players scored the highest at the day's end.
The final scores were:
A good game all around, but my feeling is that the Caboose optional rule should be avoided. Once it becomes clear that the day will end, the game becomes a race to acquire Cabooses and that I feel spoils the essence of the game, not to mention the "runaway" leader side effect it has. Some folks may enjoy playing this way and thats fine, but I prefer the more sublime, pure planning aspect of Freight Train, rather than the harsher "grab a Caboose at all costs" approach. As a variation, we may just hand out one Caboose to each player for them to use at their discretion, rather than having one player acquire two or more.
I really like the Caboose. Adds strategy. Do I get a caboose and end my train early or do I wait and risk not getting a caboose? What should I do?