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Subject: User Review: "Light Rail" rss

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TransAmerica was my first post-BGG Euro purchase. I bought it at Austin's wonderful Great Hall Games because it was light in gameplay, size, and price yet heavy in thematic logic. Gameplay-light to get it on the table with family/friends. Size-light to fit it the small space I have to store games. Price-light to start my game-collection upgrade without having to eat PB&J every day. Thematic logic-heavy because players lay the shortest possible track between cities and tie into each other's track.

Gameplay: A map of the US is scattered with mostly major cities in five color/symbol-coded regions(west, north, central, south, east), a few key rivers, and a number of mountain/hill country ranges. Overlaying all of this is a triangle grid of black lines connecting the cities and crossing rivers and mountains. 2-6 players start each round by simultaneously drawing a five-card hand with one city card per region then placing their starting marker in-turn at a grid intersection. On his/her turn, each player can lay two pieces of "track" along the triangle sides, with river/mountain crossings costing double and the stipulation that every piece of track must connect back to that player's starting marker. The key to successful play (besides lucky city-card draws and always laying the obviously most efficient track) is knowing when to connect to (and thus play off of) other players' track in such a way that they do most of the work but you get most of the benefit. This can be difficult because you never know what cities others have unil they connect them (usually obvious) and because they may simply have a better hand of cities to connect. Of course, everyone gets a new five-card hand each round, allowing the luck to spread (hopefully). The winner has the most points remaining after how ever many rounds it takes at least one other player to lose over 12 points (points lost each round equal the number of track points it would take to finish one's five-city route after the another player completes his/her route).

Scaling: Two-player games are possible with select cities culled evenly from all regions, but one player usually has to lay lots of expensive track to connect to the other's track or may even find going it completely alone the better option. Three- to four-player games benefit from increased track synergy without the increasing chaos and over-abundance of track connections in five- and six-player games. No matter how many players, games usually take under 30 minutes because the adjustable ending condition.

Components: The gameboard scratches my map-lover itch. Its coloring is appropriate and city/mountain/river placements are close enough to give a fair overview of US geography while maximizing gameplay. The wood cylinder start markers, locomotive scoring markers, and track pieces (which look more like cross ties than tracks) serve their purposes elegantly. The color/symbol-coded city cards are small but serviceable, with each city plotted on a mini-map graphic indicating where it is on the gameboard. Everything fits neatly/easily (using the supplied resealable baggie) in the sturdy 9"x9"x2" box.

Thematic Logic: Unlike the thematic illogic of TTR's set collection, Metro's more-points-for-more-convuluted-tracks scoring, or sister TransEuropa's track lines across open water, TransAmerica's gameplay is thematically intuitive. You are racing to efficiently lay lines of track to connect your cities while using each others' lines whenever possible. Mountain/river crossings are more costly than plains/valley/coast routes. The West is littered with mountain crossings, while the Mississippi R, Ohio R, and Appalachians are the main obstables in the East.

Value: For all its thematic and component quality, this is by no means a gamers' game and is suitable mainly as a gateway game to play with nongamers. If you play lots with a gaming group, get something meatier (or get a shorter-playing filler). If you play mostly with family/friends, consider getting this attention-getting, portable game.
 
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