Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Playing with Trains: Discovering Railways of the World Card Game!

by Angie
Over the years I’ve ran across the mention of “train games” over and over, and I always thought to myself “Train games? Like Ticket to Ride and Transamerica… sure, I’ve played those”. Somewhere along the way I started to realize there was a whole world of games I was missing out on. Delivering goods, laying track, running locomotives, buying stock… sounds interesting. I was running across phrases like 18xx games and crayon rails, which a quick Wikipedia check are listed as some of the primary varieties of train or railway games.  With my curiosity peaked, earlier this year I decided to explore what train games have to offer.
Now, here’s the thing about complex sub-genres of board games. The enthusiasts in these fields are often very passionate and have a slew of favorites and recommendations, usually on the more complex and lengthy side. But that’s not what I’m looking for. I like to play games that offer a lot of variety and depth, but don’t have a complex learning curve or take hours to play. My dabble into wargames started and stopped with Memoir ‘44, which is probably not considered a wargame by most enthusiasts, but fit the bill for me and has grown to become one of my top 3 games of all time. So I set out to try to find my “Memoir ‘44” of the train game genre.
I discovered a trio of games that seemed to be what I was looking for: Age of Steam, Steam, and Railways of the World. I had no idea which of those three to start with, or what the differences between them were. However, I had been hearing great things all over the internet and podcasts about the Railways of the World Card Game. Railways of the World Card Game is published by Eagle Games and designed by James Eastham and Steve Ellis. We know Steve, and he's an all around great guy who owns our very favorite game store, Rainy Day Games in Aloha, Oregon... so it seemed like a perfect place to start! If Steve says a game is good, we are never disappointed. With great reviews, co-designed by a cool guy who's taste in games is right up our alley, and a very reasonable price tag, it was basically a no-brainer to pick up Railways Card Game. And I'm SO glad we did. Yay, trains!

Jack LOVES trains!
We started out with Railways of the World Card Game, which is an amazingly deep and satisfying train game experience. The basic gameplay revolves around collecting track cards, city cards, and locomotives, and then using these cards to create a network of connected cities and delivering  goods between them. As a first introduction to the train genre, I feel like it included all of the things I was looking for and more. There is a good level of tension and decision making throughout this game, with many opportunities to develop varying strategies and score points. For example, you can build complex networks and focus on optimal deliveries of goods, or you can compete for city control by building a lot of tracks into key cities, or you can just rake in the points by building long high value links. There are a lot of considerations and ways to earn points, but it never feels like the game slows down because there is too much to consider. The game has a nice flow to it; with many different factors working together to deliver a different experience each time.
Family fun with Railways Card Game
During our first game, Randy and I each built our own long sprawling train networks on opposite sides of the board, and had very little competition for points and goods. Since then, we’ve become increasingly more competitive as we learn new strategies and tactics to increase our scores and gain an edge. I can’t help but pay attention to the cities he’s laying track into, the goods he is adding, and the opportiunities to jump in there and swoop some points out from under his nose! This game has a lot of replayability, and is has considerable depth for a small package!

Katie carefully planning out her links

We decided to try out the rules for young players with little Katie, and it was a big hit. I’ve often found when there are easy versions or rules that a lot of the depth and strategy in a game is diminished, but that is not the case with this game. The young player rules in Railways of the World Card Game still offer a very engaging, strategic, and rewarding experience with lots of options to consider, while also remaining simple enough for our 5 year old to quickly grasp and enjoy! She is looking forward to learning the full game, but we are having so much fun with the basic rules we haven’t yet felt a need to add anything. The “kids” variant was a very exciting feature of this game, and we’ve come to love playing it both ways. 

Randy enjoying Railways Card Game at a coffee shop

We were having so much fun with trains, so Randy got me Steam for my birthday (it was the only one of the three that was in stock at our friendly local game store). We’ve played Steam once and thought it was an interesting game, but with Railways of the World Card Game I feel like we may have already found the perfect train game experience we were looking for. Every time we think about sitting down to play another game of Steam, we end up pulling this one out instead. We’ve packed in along to the park and the coffee shop, something we couldn’t easily do with a big box train game. I feel like Railways Card Game is a perfect introduction to this genre because it uses many of the same concepts and terminology as other train games. It’s a simple game to learn, with emergent complexity that offers a high level of interaction and rewards strategic playing. I highly recommend trying out this game, and think it makes an excellent entry point into the world of train games. I really think as we continue to branch out and explore the genre, this will remain a favorite because of its strategic depth, portability, reasonable play time, awesome “kids” variant, and unique gameplay.

AWESOME ALERT!!! If you are in the Portland Oregon area (or willing to travel like we are!), there is a Railways of the World Game Day event this coming Sunday July 31st, 1PM, at Rainy Day Games. Both the board game and card game verisons of Railways AND THEIR NEW EXPANSIONS (!!!) will be available to play, with the designers present and excited to teach, play, and socialize. We'll be there, you should too!!

Are any of our readers train game fans? If so, which do you love and why? If you haven’t tried one yet but are interested in the genre or just looking for a fun new game to play, give Railways of the World Card Game a shot and let us know what you think!


  1. If you like Memoir '44 you should check out Battle Cry. It uses the same mechanics and is Civil War Based. Steve and I like it more than Memoir.

    Amy Ellis