Happy Little Railways: Traintopia Review

I recently had a debate with some fellow gamers at a board game convention. We were discussing what board game themes could be considered universally appealing. One of my buddies said with far more confidence than I could believe, “Trains. Everybody loves trains.” I chuckled and said, “That’s not true. Trains are non-offensive, but that doesn’t mean everybody ‘loves’ them.” I kid you not, five minutes later a random stranger, when asked what his favorite types of games were said, “Train games. Who doesn’t love train games.” He then continued to lecture us on the subconscious affection people have for trains, and how this comes as a result of trains historical significance coupled with the aww and wonder most feel as a result of never actually getting to experience one in person. Moral of the story, people apparently dig train games. With that in mind, let’s go ahead and have a look at an upcoming “train” game from publisher Board & Dice.

Within the hobby when someone mentions a “train game” they are typically either referring to some version of Ticket to Ride or stock game in the 18XX genre. Turns our Traintopia is neither. Rather it’s a rather simple tile drafting game with players building their own city of railways. What makes the game unique is that players are not only drafting tiles, but also wooden components needed to maximize the points of your various railways. As such, the game features some real tension between scoring now, while you still can, and holding out just a little bit longer to see if you can squeak out a couple more points. Let me go ahead and explain how the game is played and then I’ll give you my final thoughts.

The game is played over the course of 8 or 9 rounds depending on player count. Each player will receive a starting tile for their city, depicting a starting train station and a combination of a few other potential features. Before the game begins there will be a quick snake draft where each player will get two extra tiles to add to their city to help accelerate gameplay. The tile placement rules are pretty loose when it comes to modern board games. You are essentially allowed to place a tile anywhere within your city. It is not required that any new segment of track be connected to existing track. The tile’s not even required to line up with existing tiles, it can be offset halfway. In the end, the only real rules are that you can’t create a loop of continuous track, and you can’t cause new or existing track to end abruptly into another tile. That’s it. Easy, right?

Each round a new card will be turned over that will indicate what items are available to draft that round. These will always include new tiles and variation of wooden scoring pieces. Any new tiles drafted are immediately added to your city following the afore mention placement rules. Scoring pieces include commuters (in three different colors), tourists, bullet trains, and mailbags. Drafting one of these will allow you to immediately add it to one of your railways, finished or not, and score points. Commuters will score one point per developed area matching their color that the track runs though, only scoring each color on each line once. Tourists score points for the different attractions adjacent both orthogonally and diagonally to the railway. And bullet trains and mailbags will grant bonus points at the end of the game. Additionally you have the option of discarding the drafted piece and just receiving a single point.

I should also mention that there is money. Who doesn’t love money, right? Some tiles will depict money on them. When you add one of these tiles to your city you place a money token on the tile. There are a couple different things these can be used for before or after drafting something on your turn. You mean spend one to take and place a bonus tile. These come from a face-up supply of super focused, high potential tiles. Or spend one to “change” the color of commuter at the time of placement, allowing you to rescore districts of a particular color again. And lastly, you may spend one to draw and additional endgame objective card. While each player gets one at the beginning of the game, you can never have enough endgame scoring objectives. None of those sound appealing? Have no fear. Remember those bullet trains? You sill score bonus points for money tokens left adjacent to tracks with those bullet trains.

The game ends after a special single item draft after all round cards have been used. Players will add up the points scored in game, any accomplished objectives, trains and money tokens, scoring points for completed railways (doubling them if there is a mailbag), and getting bonus points for longest railways. The player with the most points is the winner. There are a few additional details I’ve chosen to leave out, but for the most part it’s just that simple. I do recommend taking a second at the end of the game to admire not only your own city but each players’ city.

So what did I think? Overall, I really enjoyed the game. It’s not often that I am surprised by a game any more. Having played my fair share of games I can normally tell from looking at the box and reading the rules to a new game whether or not I will enjoy the game. I’ll be honest, upon reading the rules and seeing the components I didn’t have very high hopes. The game seemed a little to childish and simplistic for my taste. But, man, was I wrong.

I feel like the game that may be the best comparison to this one is Carcassonne. While there are a few major differences, for the most part the games feel very similar to me, with Traintopia making some major improvements over what may be the most classic tile placement game. I like how each player has their own placement areas, this allows for more control. I also like the drafting of tiles and scoring pieces compared to the hand of tiles in Carcassonne and optional placement of meeples. And lastly, I think the decisions the money tokens add makes for some added fun.

I do have a few nitpicks though. The wooden scoring pieces, particularly the meeples, are a little tiny. This was probably done to allow them to fit better on the tiles. I also feel like while the end game objectives are a nice touch, I wish there more of them or a better variation. In the end, I think my biggest complaint may be the identity the game is trying to establish for itself. The box art suggests a fun, family experience. On the flip side, the tile art leaves something to be desired and small components don’t seem so family friendly. But luckily the gameplay is suitable for both family level gaming as well as more serious gamers, like me.

 

When all is said and done I highly recommend giving the game a try. I think you will also be pleasantly surprised at the robust experience that a few simple design changes can bring to a crowded genre. I would like to thank Board & Dice for sending me a copy of Traintopia for review purposes.

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