Trains was designed by Hisashi Hayashi (what a great name) and published by Japon Brand, and is playable by 2 to 4 players in about an hour.
What You Get
The smaller box is quite sturdy, but the illustration is quite dark and not terribly attractive. Inside is a glossy, double sided game board, quite cleanly illustrated and easy to read. There is a bag of wooden bits and hundreds of cards. The cards are illustrated by photographs, some of them not that great, and the action text is really quite small. Overall, the look is functional but not too much more.
What You Do
The game is set up by making a number of different types of cards available, one set that is used every game (like cards for rail laying, station building, trains…) and eight sets of cards that can change from game-to-game, which will make the game play quite differently each time. Each player starts with the same set of ten cards. These are shuffled (you need to do that a LOT) and you draw a hand of five cards.
All the game play revolves around using these five cards to do whatever actions you can manage. Each card has an income and an action it can perform. You can combine income cards to buy new cards, which could be things like amusement parks to enhance income, new, more profitable trains, and steel bridges to make track building easier over rivers. Track building requires a track building card and possibly additional funds to cover costs of building in rough terrain, or the presence of other players. Tracks are marked by placing a wooden cube on the board. City spaces can be developed by addition stations, increasing their value. However, each rail laying or station adds a rubbish card to your stack: these essentially are deadwood that fill up your hands, so how many new lines you lay needs to be weighed against future turns of filling the hand with rubble. Or, perhaps you need some cards to help manage your rubble: just hope they show up when you also draw rubble.
So, how do you score? Connecting to cities with stations, connecting to special off-map scoring sites, as well as purchasing victory point cards that sit in your hand. Once a player has run out of marker cubes, or four stacks of cards are empty the game ends and scores are added up.
What I Think
I played Dominion, and actively disliked it. You seemed to be doing things in complete isolation of everything: filling a hand of cards, playing things, getting new cards- it all seemed very vacuous and uninteresting. Then, I tried Trains, and it thrilled me right away. I think it was very simply the map: there was a goal, a visual thing you could focus your work around, and all these actions seemed to be in some sort of context and make sense. The variability of the cards adds a lot of interest in the game in trying to make them all work together. There is the possibility of direct interaction on the map, with some small strategies arranged around blocking opponents, or at least, making it more expensive to build.
What drives me nuts is the shuffling. Shuffle, shuffle, shuffle. What a pain. The cards are a bit dark and harder to read, but once you get going you pretty much remember what all the cards do anyway.
I really like Trains. I’ve even been able to play with my wife, and the game goes fairly quickly, but there are some tough choices and there is always the feeling that you could have done better. Up until this game, I had little interest in deck builders, but this became a must-own for me.
My same experience. I thought Dominion was ok and played it because my wife much enjoys it. But, it always seemed actions for actions' sake and hard to know where I was going.
Trains immediately provides that focus and with it a tension as my hand gets bigger (mostly with waste) will I get the cards I need to complete this line or this station.
Fun game -- even though I have lost to my wife all 3 times we've played.
Thanks for the review. The exact comparison I wanted to hear, as I too am not a fan of Dominion. It's not going to jump to the top of my wishlist... but it will stay on there for consideration.
I like Dominion quite a bit, and while I'm not ready to jump on the Trains is better bandwagon just yet, I do think it's probably the best deckbuilder since Dominion by far.
The addition of the board while maintaining simplicity and elegance (not to mention clearly effective playtesting) really shines in the final product. They didn't get carried away with theme either, so it is still accessible as opposed to say needing 3 different reprints to get the rules still not quite right.
I do wish the board was a little better looking from a graphic design perspective and the issue with mountains/forests for US audience is a little tough. Falling back to wooden cubes in the US edition is a more than a little dissapointing to me, but I probably would have replaced the origonal colored sticks with something more thematic anyway.
I still wonder how well this will hold up after say 20 plays, and obviously I'm curious about how they handle expansions (will there be new boards too?).