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Transamerica is a tile-laying game for two to six players. The object is to be the first player to connect five specific cities to one another.

Mensa loves this game. Correspondingly, I immediately became suspicious. However, enough other people loved this game that I decided to give it a try.

Bits

Included in the game are dozens of little wooden sticks (referred to as "rails"), a board, six differently colored wooden trains, six barrel-shaped "blocks" of wood (the same colors as the trains), and a deck of cards. The board is a map of the United States (in the version I own) with major cities and geographical landmarks identified. Superimposed upon the map is a set of triangles.

Think of the triangles as capital "V's". One "V" after another, followed by another and another. They all touch at the top. There is also a horizontal line above and below each row of "V's". In this way, all cities on the map are connected at intersections of the lines, and lines go over or through all geographic objects (rivers or mountains, respectively). Don't worry, my explanation makes it sound worse than it is. Basically, there are lines connecting all cities, and the lines go over all rivers and mountains.

All of these bits are fine. Nothing spectacular, mind you, but fine. The cards are a little on the cheap side. They don't strike me as capable of standing up to extended use. They have that odd feel of having powder on them. They are also very rigid, so if they are bent, they will be wrinkled beyond repair. This is a problem because everybody will know when you have the "Chicago" card. But this is a minor quibble.

Three out of four.


Instructions

The instructions are fine. The rules of this game are so simple (one of the beauties of this game), that instructions pretty much write themselves.

Four out of four.


Rules

The rules are quite simple. The map is divided into five, color-coded regions. You randomly draw a card from each of these five regions. Next, place your barrel-shaped marker on any intersection on the board. Finally, players place their little train markers in spot number 13 on the scorecard at the top of the map. Once everybody has their cards and have placed their markers, play begins.

Players take turns laying 1 or 2 rails on the board. For example, Dallas and Oklahoma City are two lines apart, so a player, on their turn, might want to connect them together (although, God knows why anyone would want to take a train to Oklahoma City, unless, of course, its to get people out of the city). Connecting cities is fine, so long as there is a line of rails going back to the starter marker. That line can be as convoluted as possible, just so long as it connects back to the starter marker.

The first player to connect their five cities together wins the round. The other player(s) count the number of rails they still need to lay in order to connect their cities. That is their score. They move their train down the score pad that number of spots. For example, of Bill wins the round, and Ted needed to lay three more rails, Bill has a score of 13, while Ted has a score of 10 (13 minus three). This continues until somebody reaches zero.

There are two rules that make the game interesting. If a river must be crossed, a bridge must be built. If a mountain is encountered, a tunnel must be dug. Building bridges and digging tunnels takes twice the time as simply laying rails. Therefore, if a river is crossed, or a tunnel is dug, only one rail can be played. The other rule that makes for a sometimes maddening game (that’s a good thing) is that players are free to connect to their opponent’s rail system at any time.

Four out of four.


Bottom Line

Transamerica is a clever game, where people think they are in it until the end. Since the city cards are dealt randomly, occasionally, the cards can screw a player over. That’s the breaks. The trick to this game is knowing when to connect to your opponent's rail system. Forcing your opponent to spend rails connecting to your system is better. Another aspect that takes a little experience to master is when to make the move across the Rocky mountains to get to the west coast region.

In my opinion, Transamerica is a brainy diversion. However, I can't escape the feeling that it is less than the sum of all its parts. Don't get me wrong. I enjoy the game. However, it is so devoid of theme, that it becomes an intellectual exercise. It's like a slightly more interesting version of a logic puzzle. That said, at $28 retail, less than $20 street, it is a good deal. I recommend the game.

Three out of four.


 
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