Several months ago we got in several new games at the store where I work. I've been anxious to try Trans America, a train-themed game that I'd heard was really good, and that's been around since 2001. We had a demo copy, so I was able to borrow it and try it out before deciding to purchase.
What You Get
1 game board
85 black tracks
18 tracks in 6 different colors
35 city cards in 5 different colors
6 starting markers
1 starting player card
How to Play
Have each player choose a color to play and take a locomotive scorer in that color, and a cylindrical starting marker in that same color. Have each player place his locomotive in the engine house at the start of the scoring track at the top of the board. Take 1 of the black wooden track markers and place it on the red line at the other end of the scoring track. Depending on how many players you have, shuffle either 25 or 35 of the city cards. Spread the cards out face down on the table and have each player choose one card from each of the 5 colors. Each player then looks at his cards in secret. Decide who is going to go first and give him the starting player card. Place all black track pieces in reach of all players.
Playing a Round
The goal of each round is to connect the 5 cities depicted on your cards. You do this by laying track.
On the first turn of any round, the starting player decides where to place his cylindrical starting marker. It can be placed at any junction on the board, on a city or not. After he places his marker, each of the other players, moving in a clockwise direction, places his marker. Players can place their markers at any junction they choose, but two starting markers cannot be at the same junction.
After the markers are placed, each turn now consists of players - starting with the starting player for the round - each laying track. The rules for laying track are simple. You must lay at least one piece of track on each turn. If you are laying track on flat land, you may lay either 1 or 2 sections of track. If you are laying it through mountains (representing tunnels), or over rivers (bridges), then you can only lay 1 piece of track that turn. Track may only be placed in such a way that it connects to your track network. On your first turn, you may therefor only lay track starting from your marker. After that, you may lay track anywhere as long as it is connected to your network. You may even lay track that connects to track another player has placed. Once you do that, the track you've connected to becomes a part of your network.
Ending a Round
As soon as someone has all of their cities connected, even if it is not on his turn, that player announces that he has done so (we say "Uno" as a joke). If it is during someone else's turn and the player whose turn it is has only placed one track and has one more track to place, he may do so before the round ends. At this point, the winning player turns over all 5 of his cards and proves that all of his cities are connected.
At the end of a round, any players who have managed to connect their cities do not do anything. The players who did not connect all of their cities must move their locomotive markers down the scoring track toward the barrier. The number of spaces they move is determined by however many track pieces they still needed to place. For every missing flat land track, they must move their locomotive 1 space. For every missing bridge or tunnel, they must move 2 spaces.
Once the scoring is finished, all cards are reshuffled, players get their starting markers back, all tracks are removed from the board, and the starting card goes to the next player in a clockwise direction.
Ending the Game
Play continues in this way until one or more players drives his train past the barrier on the scoring track. At this point, the player closest to the opposite end (the engine house), wins the game. A tie is possible and victory can be shared.
What We Like
The board is gorgeous and colorful, and thick. And the playing pieces are wooden. Everything here is attractive, colorful, and nicely made.
Quick to Play
Although usually several rounds are played, this game is pretty quick to play. We've had games over as quickly as 10 minutes (when one player does abominably) and last as long as 40 minutes (when all players perform smartly).
Ever since our kid discovered Thomas the Tank Engine at about 18 months, we've loved trains of all types. We have 3 other train games in our collection with adult appeal: India Rails, Ticket to Ride, and the Ticket to Ride the Card Game. We love all of them. We also have some Thomas the Tank Engine themed games. We're all just suckers for trains.
I think the best games are those with interesting strategy but super simple game play. This game definitely falls into that category. The mechanics of this game are really simple and the game takes very few minutes to learn, and yet stays interesting through repeated play.
If you buy the most recent edition of this game, you will get not just black track pieces. You will also get 2 colored track pieces in each color. These track pieces are not used in the basic game, but you can use them in a variant described in the rule book. The variant allows you to use up to two pieces in your own color. When you place these tracks, only you can use that section of track and no one else can. The Trans America folks call this variant "vexation". We actually prefer to play the basic game, as we find it simple and elegant and addictive enough on it's own. But it's nice that this slightly more complex variant is provided.
When I review any game, often the worst part of the game is the rulebook. Not so with this game. The rulebook (actually just a two-sided page) is extremely consice and easy to understand.
Anything Not To Like?
Itty Bitty Cards
I am so done with itty bitty cards. In an otherwise awesome game with awesome components, why do they have to give us these itty bitty, teeny weeny cards? They're almost impossible to shuffle. Ugh.
Who Can Play?
The box says this game can be played by anwhere from 2 to 6 players, ages 8 and up. If you play with 2 or 3 players, you remove some of the city cards. Having only played this with 3 players, I can't be certain how it plays with different numbers. But, from what I know of how it plays, I think it would be kind of lame with just 2. Because of the edition of more cities with a greater number players, I think it would still be quite a good game with any of those numbers. As for the age range, the rules and mechanics are definitely simple enough for an 8 year old, though strategically I think they would have a difficult time against adults. I'm going to wait awhile before playing it with my kid, even though he is 9 now.
This is a really great, simple to play, train themed game for 3 or more adult players. Can be played by children or by a couple, but it's really ideal for 3 or more adults. We enjoy this a great deal.
As far as how it plays with 2, it's more cutthroat. It becomes a zero sum game. It feels less chaotic and more strategic since you're working directly against only one player.
It's not a bad 2-player game, but there are definitely much better games for two.
Just call me Erik
Great review, which like the rulebook to TransAmerica is very concise and clear
One thihg, though, is that the itty bitty cards don't actually get shuffled. You spread them out face down on the board and everybody picks their five.
Well, as I recall - though I don't have the rules in front of me so I might be wrong - you're supposed to shuffle, then spread the cards out on the table. Regardless, I just sort of end of mixing them around in my hands since they don't actually shuffle.
Thanks for reading.