Trains Review

Trains board game in play

One of the newest deck building games that has been generating buzz is Trains.

Trains, simply put, is "Dominion with a board."  (If you haven't heard that phrase yet, then you probably haven't heard much about the game at all.)  Each player starts with a train track in a single city on the board, as well as a very basic starting deck (consisting of "Normal Trains" which are money, and a few cards that allow you to interact with the board).  On each player's turn, he is allowed to buy, play actions, lay tracks and build station improvements as many times as his cards allow (based on icons and available money).  When buying cards, they simply go into the player's discard pile.  When performing board related actions, the active player will also collect "Waste."  Play continues in this manner with players attempting to lay tracks to connect different cities while also building stations in those cities until one player has exhausted their supply of track, all of the stations are built, or four piles of cards are exhausted.  At that point, whichever player has the most points based on what they have built, what they have bought, and what they have played is the winner!

The first pro that I have for Trains are the Waste cards.  Every time you do anything beneficial, you gain a Waste.  Want to lay track?  That's a Waste.  Want to improve a station?  Waste.  Buy victory point cards?  Waste.  Go where another player already is?  Extra Waste.  Granted, the Waste cards slow down the game by causing each player's deck to be suboptimal, but Waste management is also a nice addition to the genre.  In previous deck building games, there have been bad cards that clutter up your deck, but in Trains, dealing with these cards is a central facet of the game.  Additionally, there is a rule built just for this - a player has the option of passing his entire turn and simply trashing all of the Waste in their hand.  (Seems fitting to trash waste, doesn't it?)

Trains board closeup showing cities and track
Building multiple stations can be valuable
The next pro that I have for Trains is that there is quite a bit of replayability to the game.  The board is double sided, and there are 30 different piles of cards to choose from each game.  (These are called "kingdom cards" in Dominion, but do not appear to have a specific name in Trains.)  Of these 30 options, you only use eight piles per game.  Thus with the double sided board and 30 different options for available cards, there are a large number of different setup choices.  This will allow people who fall in love with the game to play it repeatedly without worrying about it growing stale.

The game also plays smoothly.  But, instead of spending time fleshing out that, let's move on to an element that I haven't decided about.  There has been a strong tendency in the games that I have played to ignore the board.  How does this work?  Well, instead of gaining points by connecting cities and building stations, you can also gain victory points by purchasing certain cards.  The crux of this strategy lies in Waste management.  Whereas improving a city multiple times and connecting different cities on the board may gain a player 5-10 Waste cards, buying a victory point card only nets a single Waste.  Therefore, it is much easier to build a deck that can buy a lot of victory point cards than it is to build a deck that can utilize the board efficiently.  In the games that I have played, I have not seen anyone win while completely neglecting the board, but there does seem to be a strong strategy around ignoring the board for the first half of the game.

This leads to my first con.  If you have improved several cities and built your infrastructure, it is far too easy for other players to connect to your cities and earn the same points - and this can be very frustrating, as there is nothing that you can do to stop them.  At the end of the game, cities score full points for each player that has built a track in them.  To build where another player already has track costs some extra money and gains extra Waste, and building in a city that has been upgraded also costs extra money.  However, there are cards that allow you to ignore each of these extra costs.  So, it will happen that one player will improve several cities, and another player can swoop in and claim equal credit - and do so much more quickly (and inexpensively)!  I wish that there were at least an occasional option (possibly one of the card piles) that allowed a player who was already in a city to prevent other players from being able to build in it.  I would imagine that something like this would be coming in future expansions.

basic setup cards for Trains
Here are your basic currency: worth 1/2/3 money
My second con for Trains is that it feels a bit too similar to Dominion.  Essentially, it feels a bit like a re-themed expansion to me: "Dominion, the Board Expansion!"  Whereas I think that Dominion is a brilliant game, the similarities cause Trains to conjure up thoughts about Dominion throughout the game.  Then, Trains can start to feel a bit incomplete as it has not had the time to build the vast array of expansions that Dominion has.  I will freely admit that not everyone will share this con, and many people will like Trains much more than Dominion as they will feel like they are doing something with their deck, instead of building a deck just for the sake of having a deck. Yet for me, I don't know that I can play Trains without thinking of Dominion.

My final con is simple.  I cannot shuffle the cards in Trains (which is really annoying in a deck building game).  I have actually played on two different physical copies, and when I shuffle the cards, they clump together.  Now, when I say this, please keep in mind that I have been shuffling cards for 20 years or longer, as I have been playing games of some sort my entire life.  Each of the individual piles of cards seems to be the same height, but I think that some of the cards are a fraction of an inch different than others - which causes this problem.  And, now that I've said this, also be fully aware that many people that I have played with think that this is all in my head.  I'd be curious to see if other people have experienced what I'm talking about here - please leave a comment and let me know if you have noticed this, or if you can shuffle the cards with no problems.

Overall, I give Trains an 8.0/10.  I think that it is a very well made game, but (as you're tired of hearing), it is so similar to Dominion, that I don't see myself pulling it out instead of Dominion, except for with friends that really didn't like Dominion.

If Trains sounds interesting, you might also check out these deck building games: Nightfall, Puzzle Strike (which is actually "chip building"), and Quarriors (which is "dice building").

I would like to thank AEG for providing me with a review copy of Trains.


  1. I noticed the shuffling issue when playing yesterday, but I thought is was because the desk was too small.

    Great game. Don't buy Landfills, though. Too inefficient. They often clog up your hand just as bad as a waste card would.

  2. Hey Josh,
    thanks for another great review. I find it interesting that in your games playing without the board actually was a successful strategy, because when I tried it, I failed miserably. My opponents just had more good hands to play with because they could get rid of their waste while I often ended up with point cards in my hand and lacking money to do anything. Maybe it depends on the available traindom cards, the games where I tried to play for point cards all had cards that allowed cheap rails, giving board strategies some advantage.

    The real reason why I comment, though, is to tell you that I didn't have any problems shuffling the Trains cards. Maybe it's something about your copy?

  3. Rob - Ok, so at least one other person has noticed this!

    Kai - It couldn't have just been my copy, as it happened on both copies I played with...