Trains is a successful deck-building game by Japanese designer Hisashi Hayashi, published in an updated and improved English edition by AEG. With the abundance of "train games" on the market, I guess it was inevitable that someone would bring this theme to the deck-building mechanic. But before dismissing this game too quickly as yet another Dominion clone, it should be noted that Trains has been lauded for adding a functional board to the game-play. It's also been followed by Trains: Rising Sun, which was published last year, and can be played as an independent game or integrated together with Trains.
In Trains, players have the assignment to manage the railways of modern Japan, trying to build the most powerful network. You'll be using bullet trains, freight trains and more, in this quest for excellence. Starting with a small set of cards, your job is to build up an effective deck, but at the same time place railways and stations on an actual map of Osaka or Tokyo. Who will best be able to conquer the challenge of the tracks, and be the most successful railroad magnate?
I've scoured the personal comments and skimmed through some reviews and other articles, and carefully organized some key quotations to bring you the important things you need to know and what other people think about Trains. The parts in bold express my own conclusions, which are then expanded upon and substantiated by the citations that follow, to give you a feel of what most people are saying on each point. Perhaps you could call this a kind of "consensus of opinion", somewhat biased because I'm the one who gets to pick the quotes to include, but overall a well-rounded and fairly objective viewpoint. So here you have it, an at-a-glance overview of some of the majority opinions that you need to know about this game.
NB: For more reviews like this, see this list.
1. The basic concept of Trains is that it is a deck-building game in which you build Japanese railroads.
"Build train routes over modern day Japan via deck-building!" - Peter Elsenheimer
"Players are developing railways and infrastructure, around the regions of Tokyo and Osaka. ... Players use the now familiar draw cards, play cards, discard your hand mechanics to generate income and invest that income into more cards, or track on the game board." - Doug Adams
2. The deck-building game-play is very reminiscent of Dominion.
"It is like Dominion, but with a purpose." - Robert Leopold
"A carbon copy of Dominion with a board included." - Juuso Mattila
"Dominion without a pesky fantasy theme." - Johan Språng
"First Dominion rip-off that I would rather play than the original." - Anye Freer
"Dominion with a board." - kholdstare21
"Japanese take of Dominion with a train theme." - Ville Inkiläinen
"Deck builder with many similarities to Dominion; although easier card play as no limit on actions or buys except as limited by what cards you have in hand." - Craig Blumer
"Great Dominion-esque deck builder which adds a board and more depth." - Chris Salvato
"Half the game is a Dominion clone." - Daniel Länsimies
"It's like Dominion and yet it's not Dominion." - John Bandettini
3. However, Trains adds several new elements that add welcome twists to Dominion and to the deck-building genre.
"Very nice change from the usual deck builder." - Stephane Brochu
"Adds an interesting twist to the deck-building genre." - Brian Moore
"I had thought deck builders were getting stale but Trains definately reignited my interest in them." - Patrick Cussen
"Another Deckbuilder? Not just another one... it's an awesome deckbuilder and with a board that adds a new dimension to these kind of games." - Paulo Renato
"Adding a train board adds an interesting new twist to the deck-building genre." - Diz Hooper
"Yes, this is an obvious Dominion rip off, but the added board element makes this game great." - Nate Stratton
"Game is very reminiscent of Dominion for deck building except you can take multiple actions and multiple buys." - Larry Rice
"Yes it stands on the mighty shoulders of Dominion, but it provides so much more game play on top of its vanilla deck building." - David Short
4. Firstly, it adds a train theme to the Dominion-style gameplay.
"Dominion meets Train Games . . ." - Robert Carroll
"Strong overtones of Dominion with obvious notes of Ticket to Ride." - Jim Sullivan
"Half Dominion, and half Winsome cube rails." - DroppEcho
"Great combination of a deckbuilder and a 'Chicago Express' style train game." - Mike B
"Fantastic melding of two distinct genres - deck building, and Winsome-esque route building." - Doug Adams
"Hands down the best deck-builder so far. Dominion meets Railroads of the World." - Captain Spaulding
"Much more than just "dominion + board". It's very thematic as cards do make sense when it comes to their ability." - Ben Tsui
Many consider this well-integrated theme as an improvement over Dominion.
"Themed much better than Dominion (which has no theme)." - Vinson H
"Yes it is Dominion with a board, but it is also Dominion with a theme and the game is vastly better for it." - H-B-G
"I always thought a Dominion grounded in some sort of contextual reality would appeal to me more than a mundane medieval theme." - Jason Matthews
"Brilliant game. Dominion, with the best possible theme and some pretty good twists." - Mikko Saari
"Proof that train themes don't have to be dull and boring." - DroppEcho
"Love the Japan train network theme." - Abram Bachtiar
"I also appreciate the strong theme." - Suzy Vitale
"Dominion style game gets a major lift in theme by adding railways and a board to build your rails." - Alan How
"I hate Dominion, but, apparently, if you slap a train theme on it and give it a board, it becomes a really fun game!" - David S
5. Secondly, it adds a board to the Dominion-style gameplay.
"It's like Dominion but more attractive to the family, and it integrates a board." - Chris Halvorson
"The cardplay is EXTREMELY Dominion-like, with a few interesting twists, and the board adds a whole other layer." - ellephai
"Trains takes a very recognizable Dominion engine and uses it to power a positional track-building board game." - Joshua Miller
"Takes the strong foundation of Dominion and adds another layer of depth/interaction with the board." - Jordan Fraser
"Deck building with a board components. Multiple viable paths to victory." - Christian Monterroso
"An interesting take on the Dominion deck-building idea by introducing a board element into it." - Craig Hargraves
"Deck building games with a map. Points to be scored on map as well." - Kris Verbeeck
"The deck-building engine is wisely kept simple, since your attention will be divided between the card half-game and the board half-game. Victory point cards are made more painful and less profitable than in Dominion, in order to encourage board play as your primary source of victory point scoring." - Joshua Miller
"Great mix of Dominion with a physical board railbuilding element. The two combine very well." - Brian Modreski
"A beautifully paced deck builder with incredibly well integrated board play." - Kevin Peters Unrau
Many consider the integration of this board/map as an improvement over Dominion.
"It is amazing how much the board changes this game." - Wojtek Wojcik
"Adding the board takes away from the fatigue the deck building genre seemed to drift off to." - Arne Thomi
"A superb Dominion variant. The boardplay adds some depth and variety." - Jason Matthews
"Having to balance deck composition to buy Skyscrapers as well as build track/stations is brilliant." - Nate Stratton
"The board makes sure that it's not just a solitaire fest." - Ben Tsui
"It's Dominion with a map but it still manages to feel fresh despite this." - Doomfarer
"I thought the board element added a lot to the Dominion model and really enhanced the game." - Gregarius
"Shameless Dominion clone, but the need to balance between building on the game board and buying VP cards is quite fascinating." - oskari
"I think the board adds more strategy. You can't really ignore the board if you want to win." - Darkenmoon
"The parallels to Dominion are as obvious as you can get, but the train building mechanic on a map add a whole new level of strategy and uniqueness." - Matthew Rooks
"The addition of the board makes this seem like a more complete gaming experience." - Eric Terrell
6. Thirdly, it adds a waste mechanic to the Dominion-style gameplay.
"Board play also inflicts pain in the form of Waste cards that are added to your deck as you build track and stations. Waste cards are do-nothing deck cloggers, although you can skip your turn to trash any and all waste cards in your hand." - Joshua Miller
"Warning: decks will clog up due to the waste mechanism. Waste management is part of the game, and adds to the chaos." - Peter Elsenheimer
"I find the "waste" mechanic a lot of fun and very thematic. Try and build a nice railroad with minimal environmental impact. It's always a tricky balance between managing waste and expanding your railroad." - Tom Servo
"The waste cards add up quick so it keeps players in check to get rid of the waste." - Chris Halvorson
Many consider the waste mechanic as an improvement over Dominion.
"The game board and Waste management change the dynamics of the game considerably, and for the better." - Mikko Karvonen
"In some ways this is a Dominion re-theme. However the board and Waste mechanic gives this game more depth and decisions to be made." - Neil Bessette
"The waste element is cool." - senorcoo
"Waste is always jumping into your deck and mucking up your plans. It's frustrating in a fun way." - Matt Dodor
"Eespecially the waste system is nice." - Arto Klami
"Waste card management is brilliant in this game." - jgatkinsn
7. The above new elements also ensure that there are more ways of scoring points.
"I like the additional scoring options that this contains over Dominion. It makes it feel more involved and dynamic." - Jordan Fraser
"There seems to be a good spread of ways to get points." - DroppEcho
"No attack cards in the deck, but there is intense competition on the board which provides an alternate source of victory points." - Bob Rademaker
"I actually like this game a lot, it has more paths to victory than Dominion, with additional good mechanics, without making the game play longer." - Luke Wunderlin
8. The game board also ensures good interaction between the players.
"Loads of player interaction on the gameboard and fun to play." - John Dextraze
"Everything I love about Dominion with the addition of more player interaction." - Jeremy Horneck
"I enjoy the interaction of the boardplay which is lacking in most deck-builders (or dice-builders)." - Bruce Miller
"The main addition is the board. It does influence your strategies and is a fantastic addition as it adds player interaction." - Thomas De Wolf
"The player interaction avoids monotony and adds replayability." - Manuel Correia
"As they all say, like the D-word but with player interaction." - Vrad Tepes
"No solitaire multiplayer here." - Brad F
"Terrific deck builder with lots of player interaction thanks to the laying rail mechanic." - Brad vanVugt
9. This interaction is at its best when played with 3-4 players.
"It is so so with two players." - Wojtek Wojcik
" Even in a two player game, the base game maps are fine and can offer competition if you decide to build near each other." - Gavin DeCuir
"I have some concerns about 1) scalability - its seems better with 3 or 4 than 2 as the board becomes more interesting." - Paul Lister
"Plays nice with 2 players, but the game really shines with more players, as train routes get more expensive to build when the board fills up more, and the card piles tend to deplete faster." - Peter Elsenheimer
"One knock is that it doesn't truly shine with two players, which is unfortunate for a deck builder." - Daniel Giralico
"Only concern so far is that the maps don't really suit 2p games - there is too much space." - Robert Jones
"Plays nice with 2 players, but the game really shines with more players." - Tony Brum
10. In addition Trains is easy to learn and quick to play.
"Well done, simple, and easy to teach." - senorcoo
"Games are fast, the player interaction is high and it is pretty easy to teach/learn." - Stephane Brochu
"Fast moving, with a nice dose of interaction as players race to get into high scoring areas." - Brian Modreski
"Easy to learn, easy to get hooked playing consecutive games." - Jeff Young
"Lots of card combinations promise for good replayability, and simple rules, short playing time, and fun, quick turns make this a must-have!" - Matthew Rooks
"It's a simple, clean, fun game, and the quality of the cards is nice too." - Jim Keenan
"Great fun, speedy turns and sufficient planning options to make the game have enough meat in to satisfy me." - Alan How
"Wow does this play fast! ... Brilliant 'long filler'!" - mccrispy
"Extra credit for very fast play-time, about 35 minutes including setup and cleanup." - Daniel Länsimies
"Good feeling to this game. Easy to teach, and learn." - Tony Brum
11.The combination of the above elements have led many gamers to prefer Trains above Dominion.
"Dominion Killer. The board gives you a few more options to victory." - Mike Frogman
"This is a fantastic deck building / rail laying mash up that improves upon the basic Dominion formula." - Spencer Sloe
"I like this much better than Dominion." - Larry Chong
"Finally a game that is better and more fun to play than Dominion." - Alex Sorbello
"I know this wouldn't exist without Dominion but this is better." - David Harding
"I disliked Dominion but this is a keeper." - Nick Case
"All in all a game that I'll gladly play instead of or in addition to Dominion." - Doomfarer
"This game is clearly inspired by Dominion but it adds a lot more to the standard formula." - Sean Johnson
"Knocks Dominion into a hat, then sets the hat on fire." - Jon D
"The game copies many things from Dominion, but what it adds (namely the map-board play) brings another new dimension to the game." - Alan Kwan
"Much more than just a Dominion clone, this is a game with great depth and replayability." - Mike Rasmuson
"This takes all the best bits of Dominion, and combines them with some interesting board-play, resulting in an excellent game with a variety of possible strategies." - Jon Wooden
"This takes the Dominion mechanic to a completely new level and wow how it works!" - Simon Neale
"This has totally replaced Dominion for me." - Michael Fairgrieve
"Our new obsession. I could almost give up Dominion for this...there, I said it." - Jill Reid
"Half the game is a Dominion clone, the other half feels innovative and most of all, improves on Dominion by adding a lot of new stuff. Basically Dominion is obsolete as this game is several magnitudes better." - Daniel Länsimies
"Dominion + Japan + a board to do stuff on + railroad = win." - Brian Geringer
12. The potential expandability means fans of the game welcome more cards and maps in expansions, such as the recently released Trains: Rising Sun.
"I can't wait for more maps and train cards." - David Short
"I look forward to the future expansions that are sure to give extend its potential." - Tom Conder
"This is a fun little game but wow do I wish there was an expansion with more cards and maps." - Marshall Miller
"Looking forward to more cards and maps." - Matt Pinchuk
"I'm always willing to play and hope there will be a fistful of card expansions." - Stephen Cooper
"Just needs a couple map and card expansions to make it still around for a long long time." - Bryon DeLaBarre
"Looking forward to more boards and perhaps an expansion or two if they don't overdo it." - scrub
"I'm glad to see it is getting expansion maps." - Gregarius
"I can't wait for any expansions to add even more flavor to this game." - Matt Franz
"Excited for the expansions and additional boards." - Steven Riola
"The availability of 2player maps from GenCon 2014 and Rising Sun made a ton of difference." - jooice ZP
"I want to buy the Rising sun to make it a little more varied in play." - imthewhiterabbit
"Now own the Rising Sun expansion and most of the extra maps, and have played many more times." - Vrad Tepes
13. Overall, there's a lot of enthusiasm for Trains!
"Absolutely fantastic." - Todd Adams
"Instant addiction. What a great, fun, simple game." - Francis K. Lalumiere
"I can't deny it any more: Trains is outstanding." - garygarison
"A very addicting game." - Reggie Young
"I LOVE TRAINS SO MUCH! ... I can't wait to play again...and again." - Danny Devine
"Near perfect game, quick turns, lots of strategy." - Johan Språng
"Every gamer out there needs to try this !!" - Peter Elsenheimer
"Awesome deck building game with a board!" - Sam Lumas
The bottom line: what you need to know
Trains has been the subject of some criticism for being too much like Dominion aside from an added board. Although some who dislike Dominion have been won over by the theme and mechanics of Trains, the reality is that the target audience of this game largely consists of those who already enjoy deck-building games like Dominion and who are looking for some variety in the genre. If you're in that category, then there is good reason to expect that you'll love Trains. With a familiar deck-building core that is solidly indebted to Dominion, it provides a fresh feel, interesting theme, increased interaction, and new tactical and strategic challenges as a result of the addition of a board, along with new options for point-scoring, and new twists like the waste mechanic. It makes a welcome contribution to the deck-building genre, and shines in ways where much of the competition falters.
Fans of deck-building games who appreciate what Dominion brings to the table and are looking for something that builds on its tried-and-true formula without departing too much from it, will find much that delights them on the rails of Trains, along with its stand-alone expansion/sequel, Trains: Rising Sun.
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Vila Nova Gaia
I run through Rahdo's Runthroughs and make right what once went wrong (via annotations)
Very different and cool way of doing a review
Very nice meta-review.
As a new gamer I actually played Trains before playing Dominion and those nice enough to teach me it said "its just like Dominion". "Um," I replied, "I've never played Dominion."
Anyhow, it was easy enough to learn and I loved the route building aspect of it, particularly the tension between expanding your network and clogging up your hand with waste.
I went out and bought Trains: Rising Sun as I most often play games with my wife and the 2-player boards would help us play an interactive game rather than potentially play side-by-side solitaire. We have yet to play with the route completion bonus introduced in T:RS.
My comments made the review!
- Last edited Thu Apr 2, 2015 3:24 pm (Total Number of Edits: 1)
- Posted Thu Apr 2, 2015 3:24 pm
My comment now lives among contributions from other beautiful and intelligent BGG commenters. In all seriousness I enjoy playing Trains.
New South Wales
8 Weeks to BorderCon!!! And the Geeklist is up...go find it!
Love the innovation in the creation of this review format Ender.
Nice review approach, and thanks for the courtesy of letting us know that our comments have been used in your content. Trains is still one of my favorite games, too.
I LOVE the way you did this review- it's like Rotten Tomatoes for board games!