Kulkmann's G@mebox - www.boardgame.de



Hisashi Hayashi


No. of Players:
2 - 4



Gamebox author Doug Adams writes about the game:

During the middle of 2012, I heard about a new game named Trains, by Hisashi Hayashi and published by OKAZU. I enjoyed the two String Railway games by the same publisher/designer, so began hunting for a copy of Trains on the Japanese online game shops. I was lucky to find a copy, and although it was expensive to ship to Australia, I have been very happy with it.


I was surprised when Trains arrived and I pulled it from the shipping packaging. The box is surprisingly small, roughly the size of a typical Treefrog game. It took an hour's lunch break at work to sort and sleeve the 530 cards. The effort was worth it. I've now played Trains about 15 times and think it is an excellent game.

The mechanics of Trains can be easily summarised as a combination of a Dominion style deck building game, and a WINSOME train game. You receive a lot cards in the small box, a bag of wooden pieces, and a small two sided, mounted, game board. One side of the board features the region of Tokyo, and the flip side has Osaka.

The 16 pages rulebook is divided into English and Japanese. The English rules are excellent - everything is clearly explained, and I had no questions.


The cards look nice, although they are not startling. Each different type of card features a photograph of a train, or some feature of the Japanese rail network. The card costs and action icons are clear to see. The card text, in both Japanese and English, is tiny, but easy to understand.

The deck makeup shares a lot in common with other deck builders. Any one game uses 16 decks of cards, 8 fixed and 8 random. Similar to Dominion, you get a few "suggested setup" game decks. The Train decks, Normal Train, Express Train and Limited Express Train are the copper, silver and gold money cards from Dominion. Similarly, the Building, Multi Storey Building, and Skyscraper are the Estate, Duchy and Provinces (same cost, different point values though), and so on.

The two new fixed deck types in this game are Rail Laying and Station Expansion. Finally, and rather ominously, there is an enormous deck of drab grey cards labelled "Waste". They don't look attractive, and you don't want them in your deck. Bad luck.... you're getting them!


Game play is where things depart a little from Dominion. The draw 5, play, discard all, is still there, however the constraints Dominion places on you are lifted. You can play as many actions, and buy as many cards, as you wish, in any order. Card play is breezier. It feels a lot like Ascension.

The game board is where things get interesting. Although this is a train themed game, you don't run Trains, or deliver anything. This game is all about railway expansion and city development. The train cards are the "money" in this game, and you spend that money on more cards for your deck, and track laying expansion across the hex based game board.

Track laying is all about getting victory points, and trying to deny them to your opponents. The track is represented by cubes, requires a track laying card, and costs coin to place. The costs can be as little as nothing for open hexes, but escalates rapidly as the board fills in. Crossing a river adds a coin, mountains are 2 coins. Building into a city costs a coin, plus an extra coin per station built there. Then there are the other players... each player already present in a hex adds a coin to the cost, and you must draw a Waste card. Ahh Waste....


So, on board things quickly ramp up... why do it? Why not just go and buy your victory points, in the form of Skyscraper cards? For points.... there are many more points to be had on the board. Cities with stations are worth 2, 4 or 8 points at the end of the game, and there are a lot of them. Also there are external connection hexes around the perimeter of the board where some juicy points can be had ... and they cost money to build into as well.

So, in good old conquest games speak, get there first and dig in. If you can jump into an empty city for one coin, quickly add three stations, you've banked 8 victory points, and made it awfully expensive for the other players to hack their way in.

Every time you build some sort of infrastructure, you must draw a Waste card and add it to your deck. These clog up your hand very quickly, decreasing the efficiency of your deck. To deal with it you have four options.... buy cards to expunge it out of your deck; buy cards to process it, such as a Mail Train; ignore it by investing in deck cycling cards; or take a Pass turn to trash any Waste in your hand (we did a lot of this).

The game ends immediately when one of three conditions is triggered. The pool of white station tokens is used up; when one player has placed their last track cube; or when four decks of cards have been purchased and are emptied. Points are tallied - buildings in hand, and victory points that you have connected your railway to on the game board.

I thoroughly enjoy this game. It plays fast ... 30 to 45 minutes, offers solid decision making, and seems to be much more connected to theme than Dominion. Once players are familiar with the cards and mechanics, the game almost feels too fast! The positional play on the game board, via the track laying and station building cards really spices up the familiar deck building stuff. On top of the game play, you have to consider your waste problem ... it very quickly can overwhelm your deck and interfere with your strategy.


Trains is rapidly developing a cult following. Fan maps are appearing, and a special USA/Germany map was released at Essen 2012. Unfortunately, this charming game has sold out worldwide and copies are scarce. However, I'm confident this excellent game will be picked up by a larger publisher and resurface in the near future. It's that good.

Trains is a gem, one of the best games from 2012.

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Copyright © 2012 Frank Schulte-Kulkmann, Essen, Germany