Welcome to The Game Shelf!

After getting into the board game hobby at the end of 2014, we've decided to share our thoughts on the games we're collecting on our shelves. The collection has certainly expanded over the last few years and we've been making up for lost time!

Sometimes our opinions differ, so Amy will be posting reviews every Tuesday and Fi will post on Thursdays. We hope you enjoy reading some of our opinions on board games - especially those for two players.

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Thursday, 30 April 2020

The Game Shelf Reviews:- Traintopia

Game: Traintopia

Publisher: Board&Dice

Designer: Przemek Wojtkowiak

Year: 2020



Traintopia is a commuter's dream. Train lines that go anywhere and everywhere. Whether you're trying to transport goods, commuters or tourists - there's a train line for you in the future.

Traintopia is a tile laying and route-building game for 2-4 players, releasing soon from publisher Board & Dice. It's on the lighter end of games that Board & Dice release, with a play time of around 30 minutes and very accessible gameplay. Think more 5-Minute Chase than Teotihuacan. If you're looking for a game that's a bit of twist on Carcassonne with slightly higher player interaction, then it's a game that might be worth checking out.



Gameplay

Traintopia uses a combination of tile laying and drafting over the course of 8 rounds. In each round a card will be drawn which informs you how many tiles to flip over into the drafting pool. In addition every round will have up to four wooden components which each have their unique scoring mechanics associated with them. Players will then take turns drafting a single tile or wooden component from the drafting pool and immediately adding it to their growing map of railway routes. Adding a new tile has fairly loose rules, the main thing you need to worry about is ensuring that all train lines either go into another train line or into empty space. Once there is only a single tile/wooden component left the round ends and a new card is drawn to start the next round.

All of the wooden components score in their own way. Green, yellow and grey commuters all score immediately upon being drafted. You must place them on a train track that doesn't yet have a commuter of that colour. When placed they give you 1 point for each square of town in their colour that your train track goes through. Tourists (white meeple) also immediately score once placed, but aren't concerned with towns. Instead they reward points for each tourist attraction (worth 1-3 points each) that the trainline passes by. Mailbags and Trains don't score until the end of the game, mailbags double the value of a complete track (a track with stations at both ends), while trains reward you for unspent money along the train track.


Money is a feature found on many tiles, and while not needed to do well, it will certainly make your life easier. Spending money lets you draw a new objective card should you not like your existing one, or you can score a commuter as if it were a different colour when you place it. Perhaps most importantly, money gives you access to buy bonus tiles, these tiles often have great features on them making them a valuable investment and by buying them you can get more tiles than you normally could. At the end of the 8th round players will get one last chance to take one of 4 special, end game pieces before adding up their points earned in game with the end game points earned from completed railways and trains, as well as an individual scoring objective card.


Amy’s Final Thoughts

There's an elephant in the room and I'm going to call it out straight away. The copy of Traintopia we reviewed, and the copies of everyone I have spoken to, was short a train. If you get a copy of Traintopia that is missing a wooden train, don't be shocked. In any given game it's unlikely to make a difference as trains are rarely the best way to get points and often seem to be left behind. As soon as one is ignored in a round this problem is nonexistent. Annoying, but not game breaking. Elephant out of the way, on with the review.

Traintopia is a light game that's an easy entry to the world of drafting games. The drafting is simple, but works well. Essentially each turn you are going to choose between an extension to your tracks in order to make them worth more points when scored, or a wooden piece which actually does the scoring. Decision making isn't difficult during the game, but certainly is a factor. Is it worth taking a tile which will add 3 grey towns if you are risking there being no grey commuters to take on your next turn? Is it worth taking a piece which isn't the ideal shape if it adds good features to your track? Just like in real life money solves many a dilemma, letting you take one of the bonus track pieces before you score to wrack up bonus points, or rely less on specific colours of commuters to arrive.

For such an easy entry to gaming there is a glaring error in the rulebook, that's a lack of explanation of the scoring of the bonus cards. While many of them are pretty obvious a few of them are open ended with no clear explanation. If you have the 3 closed track card and you have actually closed 4 tracks, do you score it? Not a major issue, but it could have used a page in the rules that explained the iconography, especially for a lighter game.


Traintopia has a strong feeling of accomplishment during the game. Placing a commuter on a well-designed track rewards instant points and often a large number of them, but since you can't score that track in that colour again you can't go mad. Unless you have money of course, but that is also limited by the max of 3 commuters per line. At the end of the game players get to choose one of 4 bonuses to take, these are pretty clearly of different value most of the time, but since the player with the lowest current score gets first pick this actually works as a minor end of game catch up mechanic. In fact the variable value of tokens is a theme that goes through the game. Mailbags are high risk high rewards, commuters and tourists are high reward if you have put the effort in, but low reward if you don't have a good place for them, while trains are hard to get points out of as you have to not spend money. But even so a well designed rail network can actually wrack up those train points by using the same money tokens over several tracks.

Overall Traintopia hasn't quite set my heart on fire. While being a lighthearted, fast train game is something to praise it for the lack of variety really sets the game back. Bar your objective card every game is going to be mostly the same as the last one, the same tracks are worth building in the same way to get the same rewards. While you can be a little clever with trains and tourists scoring the same feature multiple times there isn't enough to get me to bring Traintopia back to the table. But then you have to ask am I the real audience for this game? Perhaps you are looking for a tilelaying game that provides a solitaire map-building experience, while the drafting still provides a good level of playing interaction? If so, then Traintopia is worth a look.


Fi’s Final Thoughts

Traintopia is my kind of train game. While I'm not averse to stocks and shares, building routes is really my jam. What I find most enjoyable in Traintopia is the balance you need to strike between building, not only long, but optimised routes. In most games you might build 3-5 train lines, but you need to focus them - one might be your money line, another perfect for tourists. Any line can take a mail bag, but you want to make those long and ideally start and end with different coloured stations. For the grey, green, yellow and white mini meeples, you also need to have some early focus on a particular colour for each routes, otherwise you'll only score 2 or 3 with some of those meeple, which is pretty wasteful.


Unfortunately, in the above paragraph, I've described my strategy for every game, and most play out a very similar way. In a given round, the drafting pool seems to have very obvious good tiles and bad tiles, so the draft doesn't have a big element of watching out for what you need in comparison to other people. Taking the wooden components is a little more competitive, as some are better in the late or early game and better for some people more-so that others.

Without trying to make a pun, I seem to be concluding that Traintopia feels a little bit on rails. Don't get me wrong, it's a fun and satisfying take on tile-laying with a purpose, but it's an experience with limited longevity for me.


You Might Like...
  • Simple, easy to teach gameplay.
  • A quick drafting phase, with good player interaction and opportunities to hate draft.
  • Figuring out how to optimise and specialise your train lines is a nice, puzzly exercise.

You Might Not Like...
  • A lack of attention to detail in final production, with a missing train (both in contents list and components) and no explanations of scoring cards, leaves a bit of a sour note.
  • Since not all tiles are used in lower player count games, the uneven distribution means that type of tile you're looking for might just not come out.

The Verdict
6.5/10 Traintopia is a very simple and elegant design. It's a nice combination of tile-laying and route building with a drafting element that gives a competitive edge. Building trains is fun and optimising the timing of your scoring opportunities is satisfying. It's a nice next step for families, but perhaps not enough for a bigger box game in a gamer's collection. It's also a shame that it's so hard no not notice some of the basic issues with production when the game is so simple.

Traintopia was a review copy kindly provided to us by Board & Dice.

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