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Subject: [Review]Trains Running Between Lost Cities rss

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Seth Brown
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OVERVIEW
Trambahn is a 2-player game where players run competing train companies and try to fill their own stations for the trains that get enough passengers to depart.

COMPONENTS IN BRIEF
4 Terminal cards, 16 Tram cards, 112 station cards, 8 conductor cards, 1 scorepad, 2 rules overview cards. Station and conductor cards all have a $1k symbol on their backside.



GAMEPLAY IN BRIEF
The first player gets a $6k cash pile and the second player $9k. Each player gets a six card hand, and then the first player starts. Your turn has five phases:

1) Passengers - You MUST play one card from your hand next to the matching color terminal. You may optionally play a second passenger. If this results in a terminal with 4 passengers, Scoring occurs, and all stations of that color are scored.

2) Stations - You may play cards face-up in front of you, but to add a card to a column, the new card must be the same color and a higher number.

3) Income - Play as many cards as you like face-down in front of you to add to your money pile. These cards lose their stats and become $1k each.

4) Trams - Optionally use money to buy Tram cards, which are immediately played atop one of your columns of cards that does not yet have a tram.

5) Cleanup - At the end of your turn, any columns without a tram are dumped into your money pile, and you draw to refill your hand to 6 cards.

After the 10th scoring, the game ends and the highest score wins.

GOOD POINTS

*Conductors add investment options. In addition to being wild passengers in phase 1, conductors may be played on any of your own columns that do not yet have a 10 card. Although they are worth no points, this is still valuable because when a column receives its 8th card, you receive the points for that column without triggering a scoring. But the place you dump conductors early may not be a column that ends up ever getting an 8th card, in which case they were entirely useless.

*Tram values keep columns relevant. While the price of trams jumps over the course of the game from $5k to $10k to $15k, the multipliers on them similarly rise from x2 to x3 to x4. The result is that while an early column may score four times at x2, a later column that only scores thrice at x3 may end up being just as valuable. This gives players the option to try to build a good column early, or just dump what they can and try to build a killer column later.

*Cost of not churning creates interesting decisions. You can hold onto as many cards as you like between turns -- up to 5 if you so desire. However, doing so means that you not only are failing to add station cards to your board, but also failing to add money to your pile. And as trams start to cost $10k each after the first few are gone, dumping your hand for money becomes important. On the flipside, if you're dealt a 9 and 10 in the same color, it would be a shame to throw them away as money, but you don't want to play them as the only two cards in a column because that would lock it down.

*The game creates interesting tension over timing and scoring. Inevitably, both players are going to have some better and some worse colors over the course of the game. The real trick of the game is figuring out how to work the scoring timing to your advantage, whether that means scoring your own best color as often as possible, scoring opposing colors with columns that have only low numbers which you fear will grow next turn, or scoring junk columns to end the game before your opponent can manage another big score. Add to this the fact that the cards in your hand most needed for stations are also likely to be the color you'd most like to play as passengers, and you find a number of interesting tensions in the game.

BAD POINTS

*A lot of luck. Naturally, all card games have this to some degree. But in Trambahn more often than not, when I found myself victorious it involved luckily drawing into high-value cards in the colors I needed. Naturally there is some skill in setting yourself up to benefit from more cards, but even in the 3 games where I won, I never felt like it was a result of skillful play so much as good fortune.



LET'S COMPARE IT TO LOST CITIES

Because so many people are inevitably going to do this anyway, let's compare Trambahn to Lost Cities. But let's do it behind a spoiler tag, because not everyone wants this in-depth comparison:
Spoiler (click to reveal)

Both are neat little 2p card games. And both revolve around a mechanic of making columns of a color and only being able to play higher numbers than you've already played, leaving you to balance playing those high valuable cards in your hand now to create hand space, or hold onto them to get more points onto the column first.

Lost Cities has a faster iteration time, although if you play best of 3 as LC recommends and a single game of Trambahn, that won't be true. LC is easier to learn the gameplay, although harder for new players to score. LC has larger more luxurious cards, although fewer of them allows it to maintain a similar pricepoint. Trambahn has 4 colors to LC's 5, although it allows you to make multiple piles of a single color to make up for it. Trambahn has a more dynamic end condition which gives players more control over the pacing of the game, although LC does let you stall in the endgame.

But the big difference between the two games is this:
Lost Cities is a head-to-head zero sum game of fighting over each card with good information.
Trambahn is a more free-floating game about trying to score points based on best guesses.

This presents itself in a few ways. Lost Cities has, aside from the Investments, only one of each card. Trambahn has two of each 1 and 10, and three of each other number. In LC, if you play the red 7 and 8, I know I should drop my 9 atop my 6. In Trambahn, it's unclear.

The waters are murkied further by the discards. In LC, all cards discarded are visible by all players, so aside from the cards held in hand taking valuable hand space, you know what's out there and what's still in the deck. In Trambahn, cards are discarded face-down for money, so each player lacks a lot of information about a big pile of cards which are no longer in the deck to be drawn.

And the biggest difference may be access to opposing discards. Trambahn is a game where you can discard freely, knowing that if you drew the 9 and 10 your opponent needed, you can dump them as money gleefully. Lost Cities is a game where much of the tension comes from cards in your hand that you can't play but don't want to discard for your opponent. In LC, like Battle Line, your hand may fill with cards you don't want to play so you wish you could skip your turn. Hand management is important, and consists at least half of damage control. Conversely, Trambahn is a game of churning, where you will find yourself dumping most of your hand on most turns.

All of this combines to make the two games feel very different. LC is a "tighter" game, both in terms of cardplay and information. Trambahn is much more "opportunistic", not only in playing stations but in scoring advantageous colors when you can. I don't think either of these is inherently better, but I do think many gamers will find they exhibit a preference for one or the other.




CONCLUSION

Trambahn is a solid entry in the 2p gamespace, and although it may have some things in common with Lost Cities, there are also a vast number of differences such that it is in no way redundant to own both. I really enjoyed the ability to affect the pacing of the game; our second game had roughly half the combined score of our first, because I was forcing scoring much more aggressively, and I think it's good for a game to be able to feel different depending on whether it's a quick race or a drawn-out slugfest. While a bit more random and not quite as elegant as some of my usual light 2p fare, Trambahn is entertaining and offers a lot of control to players via the timing of scoring, which I expect I will continue to attempt to explore in my future plays.

IS IT FOR YOU?

If you get frustrated by never drawing the cards you need, or if you're someone who wants to count cards and more generally prefers your 2p games to be chess-like brain-busters, Trambahn may be a bit too fickle for your tastes.

But if you enjoy a 2p game with lots of opportunities for clever tactical plays of the sort that might leave your opponent saying, "Argh, I just needed one more turn before you made that color score," Trambahn may be just what you're looking for.

*Review copy provided by publisher
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Jimmy Okolica
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Nice review!

I haven't played Lost Cities in a very long time, but one of the big differences to me is that in Trambahn, players have much more control over the pace of the game. So, if I see you trying to build for long trams, I can try to focus on pushing passengers through quickly to trigger game end before you have time to benefit.
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Seth Brown
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Butterfly0038 wrote:
Nice review!

I haven't played Lost Cities in a very long time, but one of the big differences to me is that in Trambahn, players have much more control over the pace of the game. So, if I see you trying to build for long trams, I can try to focus on pushing passengers through quickly to trigger game end before you have time to benefit.

Yep, as I mentioned in the review, this is certes a noticeable difference, and one of the things I enjoyed about Trambahn.
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Dennis Ku
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I've heard good things about Trambahn.

Lost Cities was one of the first games I picked up as an adult. I found it got reallllllllllly boring after a few plays, so I hope Trambahn is a lot better.
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Seth Brown
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futhee wrote:
I've heard good things about Trambahn.

Lost Cities was one of the first games I picked up as an adult. I found it got reallllllllllly boring after a few plays, so I hope Trambahn is a lot better.

I think some people will find Trambahn better, and some will find it worse. But the good news is that it's definitely more dynamic than Lost Cities, so if your boredom came from sameness, this might be better for you.

 
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