I was never one of these kids who grew up with a fascination with trains. I liked them, but unlike my 5 year old nephew, I was not clinically obsessed by them. But after having been around the kid at a few train shows and watching the delight showed for the, admittedly, amazing machines, it kind of rubbed off a little.
How does that relate to my interest in board games about trains? Not much. I am not into these 18xx games and I think Ticket to Ride is just fine for about 5 minutes and then you realise you’re playing a glorified version of gin rummy (a game I like, but I don’t need the extra, plastic frills). The same can be said for other games in the hobby and that doesn’t make TTR a game I hate but it doesn’t hold my interest.
But I got curious when I heard about Trains and being a fan of things Japanese I bought the sequel Trains Rising Sun and, after reading through a pretty clunky rules set, I was really engaged and interested.
Having played the game with only one other player I speak herein of the 2 player experience.
In Trains Rising Sun the aim is simple: accrue as many victory points as possible by building a deck of cards that will ensure a steady flow of income and options as you work on a traditional board to build rails and connect routes.
You’re hindered by terrain modifiers (mountains are always more epxensive to build rail on) and a crappy draw. No matter how many nice cards you buy to put into your deck, you just may not draw them…like…ever. That puts a crimp in the game but after all, it is a deck builder and that’s just the business.
“Where there are cards, there shall be randomness”
Invariably, you will draw the Waste cards you accrue whenever you build a station, rail line or scratch your nose. You can get rid of them by missing a go, but the game is short and isn’t very forgiving if all you’re doing is trying to manage waste. That can get frustrating.
There’s some great art on display and the component quality is reasonably high. Fans will want to sleeve cards as they are not the best quality and honestly shame on AEG and any company making deck builders who do not lavish attention on the quality of the cards.
One other bugbear, and that is to do with the rule book. Seriously guys, how hard is it to precisely and accurately convey the rules of such a light game and yet they managed to cloud a few issues here and there and hide important information in a seemingly non-pertinent paragraph. They were, however, quick to respond to questions we had so kudos there.
The reference sheet at the back of the rule book is woeful too and missing some important information. We hobbyists almost come to expect to decipher oddly written rules but there is a place in the industry for companies that design rules (boffins) to hire people who now how to communicate information effectively (teachers, writers, editors etc.)…
Bugbear in hibernation…
As mentioned, there is randomness in the game. Some people hate that. I used to. I don’t mind a bit of randomness after years of looking down my nose at it. My favourite types of games now are open information, abstract titles like Chess, Yinsh and so on. For that reason, games that do have randomness better have some way of minimising or mitigating it’s effect if it is to keep my interest. Trains Rising Sun generally does this okay but the random fact is high…very high…
That said, I have softened towards lighter games and Trains Rising Sun is definitely that: light. But in fact, light is good. It is a welcome change of pace from the games I prefer and too many board games have become unfathomably complex for me so much so I am leaning towards light-medium games when I am not playing an abstract. And it is quick! I like that too. I does not outstay its welcome.
Importantly, it has enough substance and style so that it delivers the feel of building rails and running trains (more than TTR which just delivers some visual cardboard and plastic porn). Players have reasonably light but engaging decisions to make (when they have a decent draw) like dealing with building an efficiency machine as you design your deck, and the games throws in cards like Protestors and Politicians that actively let you attack other players if that is your thing, so there is a decent level of player interaction. Not to mention, in a two player game (for which the company has thoughtfully designed boards) real estate is tight and routes are hard to get! But that keeps the interest level high.
They have also managed to include a good degree of variety in the cards which lends itself to repeat plays. So well done there AEG!
Whether it has staying power, I am not so sure, but I am keen to play it again and I honestly don’t often feel that way about many board games or card games.
I would recommend trying this one out for a quality deck building experience.
Again, thanks to AEG for the review copy.