Introducing Trains Rising Sun
Do we really need another train game? I can already see some gamers rolling their eyes at the thought. There's already a whole genre of train games that seems heavily saturated with a variety of titles, from economic route-building games with a pickup-and-deliver mechanic like Age of Steam and Railways of the World, to heavy economic stock games like the abundant 18xx series and the lighter Chicago Express. And then there's the successful gateway hit Ticket to Ride and its offspring. While all this might be evidence of a saturated market, it also indicates a theme that is a popular one, and could well prove to be a ticket to success.
Certainly the game industry has seen more than its share of railway themed economic games, but with Trains: Rising Sun we get something quite different. It is a deck-building game that is a stand-alone sequel to the popular Trains, and is the work of designer Steve Ellis, building on the original design by Hisashi Hayashi. We've seen a lot of train games over the years, and we've also seen a lot of deck-building games over the years, but a train themed deck-builder is still a relatively rare species. As I wrote in my review of Trains, this Dominion-style game adds some real variety to the deck-building genre, by adding a functional game-board and a convincing theme. Little wonder that Trains has enjoyed so much popularity. With a familiar deck-building core strongly indebted to Dominion, it provides a fresh feel, increased interaction, and new tactical and strategic challenges, along with new options for point-scoring, and new twists like the waste mechanic.
Trains made a welcome contribution to the deck-building genre, shining in areas where much of the competition faltered, so it is good news that it now has a sequel. Trains Rising Sun promises to continue the successful formula of Trains, as a stand-alone game that can be combined with the original if desired, and has its own array of maps (some especially optimized for 2 player games), and a whole new set of cards. While enthusiasts of traditional economic `train games' are not likely to be the target market, fans of Dominion and of Trains will likely find this new title of great interest. In this review, I'll show you what you get, how it works, and tell you what I think about Trains Rising Sun.
The game box is the typical Dominion sized box that we've come to expect from most deck-builders, and features artwork that immediately draws us in to the bullet train world of Japan.
The back of the box shows off some of the cards and game-board, along with the following synopsis:
"Trains returns with all-new cards and strategies for you to build the best rail system in Japan.
Trains: Rising Sun not only features all new cards, it includes three entirely new boards. Two of the boards are designed specifically for two-player games, while the Nagoya map is for 2 to 4 players. This standalone game can mix easily with the original Trains game for even greater replay possibilities!
Trains: Rising Sun also introduces Route Bonus Cards, allowing you to score additional points for being the first to connect specific stations. Route Bonus Cards are included for the original Trains game as well!"
With these deck-builders, it's often worth taking the time to check out the box insert, since storage and functionality are very important when playing a game with a huge number of cards. The box insert is excellent, with slots for the cards, as well as card dividers to help keep the different cards together and easily identifiable, and the publisher AEG has also thoughtfully provided blocks of styrofoam to fill empty space, space which we can of course use for extra cards should we wish to combine this with Trains or add extra cards.
Here's all the components that you get inside the box:
● double-sided board
● 490 game cards
● 35 randomizer cards
● 40 route bonus cards
● 47 card dividers
● 20 route markers
● 30 wooden station tokens
● 80 wooden rail tokens (4 player colours)
● 4 scoring tokens (4 player colours)
Since this is a deck-building game, the heart of the game revolves around cards - and there's well over 500 of them altogether!
Anatomy of a card
Most of the cards indicate key information such as the card value, type, effect, and cost, as shown in the picture below.
The card type is indicated by an icon and the card colour, the types being as follows: blue = Trains, green = Rail Laying, purple = Station Expansion, red = Actions, gold = Victory Points, black = Waste, and Brown = Route Bonus. The cards will especially be of interest to people familiar with Trains, so in the images below I will give you an idea of what new cards come with Trains Rising Sun.
Cards: Trains (blue)
These nine different blue cards represent trains, and include Normal Train, Express Train, Limited Express Train, Outdated Train, Commuter Train, BioFuel Train, Experimental Train, Mining Train, and Monorail.
Cards: Rail Laying (green)
These five different green cards represent opportunities to lay rails, and include Lay Rails, Distant Partners, Trail Blazer, Interchange and Government Subsidy.
Cards: Station Expansions (purple)
This stack of purple cards represents an opportunity to place stations, i.e. Station Expansion.
Cards: Actions (red)
These 19 different red cards represent actions, and include Charitable Support, Dispatcher, Engineer, Extra Laborers, Incinerator, Junk Yard, Legal Counsel, Limited Partnership, Politician, Protesters, Reclamation Depot, Recycling Center, Regulations, Roundhouse, Strategy Meeting, Surveyor, Unhappy Passengers, Upgrade, and Yardmaster. Some examples:
Cards: Victory Points (gold)
These three different gold cards represent victory points, and include Office Building, Distribution Center, and Stadium.
Cards: Waste (black)
This stack of black cards represents garbage that will clog up your deck, i.e. Waste.
Cards: Route Bonus (brown)
These different brown route bonus cards represent opportunities to earn bonus points by connecting specific cities on the map. There are different route cards for each of the different maps in Rising Sun, as well as cards for the maps from the base game of Trains and some of the GenCon promo maps.
Just like Dominion features a random mix of ten cards at the start of each game, so Trains featurese a random mix of eight cards in the supply along with the cards available each game, and these randomizer cards will assist in making that selection.
This set of card dividers will help you arrange your cards neatly in the box, and come with clear titles at the top, so that the cards themselves can be easily stored and obtained as needed.
The game board is a high quality product, and on one side features a Nagoya map for 3-4 player games.
The reverse side features two smaller maps - Chiba and Kyushu - that have been especially designed for 2 player games. You can of course also use the maps from Trains with the new cards from this expansion as well.
These pairs of route markers will be used to place on the map as visible indicators of the start and end points of the different route bonuses in play.
These 20 white markers represent stations in the game.
There are 20 wooden markers in each of the four player colours, and these wooden cubes are used as rail tokens on the map.
Four additional wooden cubes are used as player scoring markers.
The rule book is a large, glossy 12 page book, with lots of illustrations and some reference charts, and is well formatted and clearly laid out.
Many readers will already be familiar with how Trains works, so I won't cover every detail of game-play at length, but focus on the general idea, and on what is new in Rising Sun.
Each player's starting deck consists of 7 Normal Train, 2 Lay Rails and 1 Station Expansion. The supply consists of some victory point cards (Office Building, Distribution Center, Stadium), train cards (Express Train, Limited Express Train), Lay Rails, Station Expansion, and Waste. In addition, the randomizer cards are used to choose 8 other cards for the game. Players all place a starting rail token on the map, with the Nagoya map used for 3-4 player games, and the Chiba or Kyushu maps used for 2 player games. The two-player maps use a limited number of station and rail tokens as indicated in the rulebook, and smaller supply stacks (7 cards).
Flow of Play
Other reviewers have already done us a good service with summaries of how the game-play of the original Trains works, so I'll just give a condensed version and concentrate on the new elements. The basic gameplay revolves around using your hand of five cards to improve your deck and lay rails and build stations on the map, in an effort to get the highest score with victory point cards and by careful placement of the rail and station tokens. Waste cards will take up space in your deck, but managing Waste is part of the game.
A player's starting deck
Attack & Reaction
Some cards (marked with "Attack") allow you to interact directly with your opponents, although they can be blocked if an opponent has a "Reaction" card in hand.
The game ends if any four card stacks in the supply are empty, or if a player has used all his rail tokens or all station tokens are on the board. Points are earned by victory cards in your deck, rail tokens in cities or remote locations, and of course route bonuses; the player with the highest score being the winner.
These cards are optional, but when used, route bonus cards for the map being played and corresponding to the number of players are placed face up beside the board, and the indicated routes marked on the map with the route markers.
The first player to have a contiguous path of his rail tokens connecting the cities on a route bonus card earns the VPs indicated on the card, and gets that card for a one-time use of its special ability.
Example of a completed route
What do I think?
Same Trains: This stand-alone expansion takes everything that I liked about Trains and continues it. The solid Dominion style core is a tried and proven system, but in the Trains series this successful formula is combined with a more convincing and present theme, and modified with the addition of a board. If you liked everything about that in Trains, then you'll certainly like it here too.
More Trains: Without even considering the new elements and mechanics Trains Rising Sun adds to the original game, just the fact that you get a whole boat-load of new cards to play with will already be reason for Trains fans to rejoice! Some of the attack-style cards will especially feel welcome, in terms of the interaction these provide, and there are also cards that have an impact on how the board works. More cards and more maps for the original game is a good thing, or even just when enjoyed independently as a self-contained game.
Better Trains: It's not often that a stand-alone expansion actually outshines the base game, but that is certainly the case here. If you're a deck-building fan that hasn't given Trains a shot, then you should get this sequel instead of the original. And if you already have Trains then you should still get it, because it makes an already good thing even better. Some of the reasons for this are outlined below, but for most people who liked Trains the changes will remove any niggles they did feel about the base game.
Two players: One of the weaknesses commonly identified with Trains was that it was lacking somewhat when played with just 2 players. Trains Rising Sun provides a wonderful corrective for that by providing smaller boards that ensure greater interaction, and makes the game work a whole lot better when played with a lower player count.
Route bonuses: The route bonus cards, which give you extra points for being the first to connect to specific stations, add a new dynamic to the game without altering things too much. They also add more spice to 3-4 player games, because they force players to pay more attention to the board. Once you get used to playing with this new element, you're not likely going to go back to playing without it! I also appreciate the fact that they've included route bonus cards for the previous Trains maps, and for the bonus maps released at GenCon.
Stand-alone: I love the fact that this expansion doesn't require the base game, but can be enjoyed as a separate and independent entity. Not only does this give Trains Rising Sun a wider reach, but it also makes it a great alternative entry point to the series; everything you need to play is contained in the box, and you can get right into the game. As such it serves double duty both as an expansion, and a self-contained game.
Board at end of a two player game
What do others think?
Trains Rising Sun is still relatively new, so it hasn't been the subject of much criticism to date. Some dislike the fact that it leans so heavily on Dominion, but then again, these critics didn't like Trains either for the same reason. Ultimately this isn't really a game for Dominion-haters or Trains-haters, but is geared to fans of such deck-builders looking for more of their pet likes.
Most of those who have commented on Trains Rising Sun already appreciate Trains, and by and large they see this expansion being as good as the original, and in some ways even better.
Let's start with some general praise:
"Route bonuses, 2p rules and maps, new VP cards, attack and reaction cards all feel like an improvement." - Chris Reimer
"Adds a lot more interaction, with attack cards, block cards, and routes to compete for. Great expansion." - AndySzy
"Route cards from Rising Sun complete the game - I can't imagine ever playing it without them now." - 20 yards of linen
"Like the more aggressive attack cards in Rising Sun as well as the 2 player maps." - Nathan Fuller
"The new cards are great, swinging the balance of the game towards building rails and away from pure draw-money-buy-points strategies." - Matt Crawford
"Excellent expansion that adds a lot of challenging setup options." - Chris Oldgeorge
"You like Trains - then buy this. Expands the base game and succeeds in that." - Mikko Ämmälä
"Really nicely-done expansion; minimal extra rules, but it fixes a significant core problem with the original (the fact that the straight VP cards were a bit too strong)." - Chris Farrell
"I like everything the expansion brings to the table. Route bonuses, new cards, 2 player maps, all so good! A must have for the variety and for the 2 player maps." - Chris Halvorson
"Fantastic expansion. 2-player boards and route bonuses are a great addition, and the variety of new cards ensure that no 2 games are ever the same." - Jon Wooden
"They added exactly what was needed. The route goals change the dynamic slightly, while the extra 2p maps make the game much more enjoyable at that player count. Tons of new cards help any deckbuilder, and this is no exception." - Matt Pinchuk
"I love the original Trains. The 2-player maps and destination cards in this version makes the game even better." - Waut Dooghe
"Adds some "take that" mechanics without being overly aggressive. Essential addition to the base set." - Greg Syferd
"Takes a game I really liked, fixes what needed to be fixed, and turns it into a series that should at least be in my Top 10 games." - Matt Brown
Appreciation is particularly expressed for the way in which it improves the 2 player game:
"For two players, this game is much better than the original ... the interaction on the board is more interesting, and there's more of it." - Dan Neher
"WOW! Unbelievable improvement on the base game for 2 players ... This one is absolutely a keeper and renders Dominion superfluous in our collection." - sportsNgames
"The 2-player game went from underwhelming to stellar." - Matt Brown
The consensus is that Trains Rising Sun is probably the game to start with, ahead of the original Trains:
"If you only could get one of the base games, this would be a better one to pick given the variety of the cards included." - Dan Casey
"More Trains and it's Awesome... maybe better than the base game because of the little additions like good 2P Maps and the Route Cards" - Paulo Renato
"A significant improvement in the system, and the one I would recommend to start with despite meaning you miss out on some really good cards from the original game." - Matt Brown
"Terrific expansion, and worth getting even if you don't own the base game. Fixes a lot of the perceived issues in the base game." - Brad vanVugt
So is Trains: Rising Sun for you? If you're not a fan of deck-building games, then this probably isn't a good fit for you. But if you like Dominion and deck-building games, then you definitely want to check out this excellent title, which adds a theme that isn't common in the deck-builder genre, and some interesting mechanics due to the use of a game-board. If you don't yet have Trains, then Trains Rising Sun is probably the place to start and the game to get, since is a stand-alone game that arguably outshines its predecessor. And of course if you already own and love Trains, then getting this expansion is a no-brainer, because it just makes a good thing even better, especially when playing with just two players.
It would be a shame if this game is neglected as a result of standing in the shadow of its inferior parent, or if it is simply seen as an expansion. But when seen as an independent game that outshines its predecessor, while at the same time doubling as an expansion, it deserves to be considered as a legitimately strong contender in the Dominion inspired deck-building field. Strongly recommended.
The complete list of Ender's pictorial reviews: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/37596
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- Last edited Mon May 4, 2015 3:08 pm (Total Number of Edits: 1)
- Posted Mon May 4, 2015 8:34 am
Best game ever!
Top notch review. Thank you very much.
Great review as always. I concur that this is the version to get. Adds a lot to the 2 player game with the compressed map.
Nice extensive review
An outstanding review! We've combined the randomizers from the original and Rising Sun, but if I were going to recommend one or the other as a starter, it would be this one, as you noted.
- Last edited Tue May 5, 2015 8:55 pm (Total Number of Edits: 1)
- Posted Tue May 5, 2015 8:53 pm
Love your reviews, as they are both detailed and easy to read. Do you combine cards from both games, or just leave them separate? I love that the route bonuses and 2 player maps can be added to the original game whether you combine the cards or not.