Introducing Cable Car

Wil Wheaton has done the boardgame industry an enormous favour with his Tabletop series of videos, and perhaps few games have benefited more from the subsequent exposure than Tsuro, which enjoyed an amazing spike in sales as a result of the promotional "Wheaton effect". Tsuro is a great game for what it is, but most of us who frequent this website will find it just a tad too simple. So what to choose instead perhaps?

The answer is Cable Car - a tile-placement rail connection game that is highly reminiscent of Tsuro, but offers just a little more meat for gamers to enjoy, without frightening off non-gamers. Created by Dirk Henn (designer of Alhambra), Cable Car is typical of a Queen Games title: perfect in length and weight for families and non-gamers, and beautiful to look at. It's been around the block a few times too - and you may know it from its earlier lifetimes as Iron Horse (1997) or Metro (2000). This new edition from 2009 is identical to Metro in terms of gameplay, although the artwork has changed. But perhaps more importantly, Cable Car includes an expansion that adds shares to the game, an addition that many gamers will find makes Cable Car even more appealing than the original. Let's find out more about the newest incarnation of this game.


Closing stages of a 2 player game

COMPONENT OVERVIEW

Game box

Queen Games is known for producing family games with over produced components and over-sized boxes, and Cable Car proves to be no exception. The box is much larger than it has to be, but one can't argue with the quality of the presentation that's portrayed in the cover artwork.


Game box

My copy of the game came with a German language box, as can be seen from the reverse side pictured here, but English rules were included separately, and considering that the game is language independent, I'm quite happy to have an attractive German-language box in my games cupboard. The game is published as a language independent international edition, so as long as you can read the rules, you'll enjoy the game no matter what your lingua franca.


Box back

Component list

Inside we find the following components for the base game:

● 1 board
● 60 track tiles
● 61 cable cars (in 6 player colours)
● 6 scoring markers
● Instructions


All the components from the base game

In addition there are also components for the expansion, but to avoid any confusion, we'll save showing these until we've first explained the base game.

COMPONENTS

Game board

The large game board folds into quarters, and is a quality product that looks eminently attractive on the table. Around the edge we find a scoring track, and 32 numbered spaces where player cable cars will be placed. The heart of the board are the square spaces where players will place track tiles, in an effort to make lengthy routes from their cable cars to the destination stations that are between the cable cars. In the center of the board is a power station, and cable cars that go here instead of to the destination stations on the edge of the board will earn double points.


The full game board

Track tiles

The game comes with 60 square cardboard track tiles.


All 60 track tiles

These feature lines that will connect the cable cars to destination stations. Players will place one tile on the board in turns, thereby increasing the length of their own lines and possibly those of their opponents.


Sample track tiles

Cable cars

These cable car wagons are what players will use to indicate the start of their lines. They are made of wood and are in the six player colours: yellow, blue, orange, green, purple, and black. Games with more players require less cars, which is why 16 yellow and blue cars are provided for two player games, while only five black cars are provided since that's all you'll need if ever you play with the full number of six players.


Wooden cable cars in six colours

Scoring markers

These wooden markers - one in each player colour - will be used to keep track of the scoring as the game progresses.


Scoring markers in six colours

Rules

The instructions consist of a large double sided sheet, and include several illustrations to help understand tile placement. The rules are very simple, short, and straight forward. You can check them out here:

SF Cable Car English Rules - Basic.pdf

GAME-PLAY

Set-up

The number of cable car stations for each player varies depending on the number of players, and the instruction sheet explains in which cable car stations they have to be spread around the board. You'll need 16 for each player in a 2 player game, 10 each in a 3 player game, 8 each in a 4 player game, 6 each in a 5 player game, and 5 each in a 6 player game. The scoring markers are placed on the 0 of the scoring track, and the track tiles shuffled with each player getting a random one in hand. Let's play!


Complete set-up for a five player game

Flow of Play

Placing tiles

In turns, players place a tile and then draw a new random tile to replenish their hand. Tiles can be placed adjacent to any existing tile, or to any space on the edge of the map, and they must also be oriented the same way (there is a variant that allows players to choose tile orientation, and a variant that allows players to have a hand of 2 or 3 tiles from which they choose one to place, but then be prepared for some analysis paralysis!). You can't place a tile so that a cable car line connects a departure and destination station with the same tile, unless these are the only spaces left on the board. The game continues until all tiles are placed, the player with the most points being the winner.


Early stages of a two player game

Scoring points

Whenever a cable car line is connected to a destination station, that player scores points. You earn one point for each tile your cable car line passes through. It's entirely possible for a line to double back and go through the same tile twice, in which case it would earn another point for that tile. In actual practice scoring is very simple to calculate: just begin with the departure station, and trace the entire line, counting a point each time you follow it to the next tile. Rotate the car at the start of the line to make it obvious to everyone that this cable car has been scored, and add the appropriate number of points to the score track. Easy huh?!


End of a two player game

There's a special rule about scoring with the Power Station in the center of the board - cable car lines connected to this are worth double points. These can be lucrative, but lines here will often be shorter, but the possibility of getting extra points helps keep the choices interesting.


Numerous cable car lines connected to the Power Station

EXPANSION

Components

Unlike the original Metro, Cable Car includes a stock market expansion along with the base game. With this expansion, two additional cable car colours are added, and players own shares in the eight cable car companies rather than having their own company. To allow for this, the expansion adds the following:

● 8 extra cable cars (in 2 colours)
● 2 extra score markers (in 2 colours)
● 1 shares board
● 32 shares cards
● Expansion instructions


Components for the expansion

Extra cable cars & score markers

Each cable car company will have exactly four cars on the board, and since the game uses eight companies, there are new components for a red and a brown company.


Extra tokens for the expansion

Shares

A cardboard shares board is also new - it's made of thick and sturdy card.


The board for the share cards

Also new to the game are 32 share cards, with four cards in each of the eight colours, representing a 10%, 20%, 30% and 40% share respectively.


The eight different railroad companies

Rules

The instructions for the expansion share variant consist of one double sided sheet, with English rules on one side and German on the other side. You can download a PDF of the rules (in English) here:

SF Cable Car English Rules - Advanced.pdf

Game-play

Set-up

With this version of the game, all eight companies are in use regardless of the number of players, and the game is set up with each company receiving four cable cars around the board. The shares are shuffled into four separate piles, one for 10%, one for 20%, etc, and each player begins by drawing one random face-down card from each of the piles, after which the top card from each pile is placed face up.

Flow of Play

On your turn, you may place a track tile according to the usual rules, or you may instead exchange a single share. This involves placing a share face down at the bottom of the appropriate pile, and instead taking the face up card or top face down card of that pile. Scoring happens in the same way as the regular game, except that once one company has at least 25 points, players may no longer choose the exchange share action.

Final Scoring

After the end of the game when all tiles are placed, final scoring happens. Companies are assigned a value of 1 through 8, depending on their points, with the highest scoring company being awarded a value of 8, second highest scoring company a value of 7, etc. Players then get points depending on how many shares they have in each company, and get this value for each 10% of shares they own. For example, if you owned 50% in the highest scoring red cable car company, you'd get 5 x 8 points = 40 points for that company. Some bonus points are awarded for holding the majority of shares in a company - see the full rules for all the details on how to calculate that.


Game in progress using the shares

CONCLUSIONS

What do I think?

Pretty bits from Queen: As usual, Queen Games has done an excellent job on the production values, with an attractive board and tiles, and colourful wooden pieces. These folks specialize in making family games that are great eye candy, and Cable Car is no exception. The concern that routes can sometimes be hard to figure out easily and quickly with the eye does have some merit to it, but overall Cable Car is a game that looks pretty on the table.

Puzzle-like with minimal theme: Cable Car is a tile-laying game that is really all about puzzling out the best routes and options. As such, it doesn't pretend to be very serious about its theme. It is quite dry, and its largest appeal lies with those who enjoy spacial puzzle-type games, so you'll likely find this fun if you're in that camp. As an aside, a game of this sort could have real potential as an app on a mobile device, where the computer could highlight any routes in progress.

Accessible and family friendly: The game is super easy to explain, and the visual appeal helps make it an ideal choice for introducing to non-gamers. The level of decisions is quite straight forward, and there's also a definite element of luck of the draw. Cable Car also plays quite quickly. All these elements mean that the base game is a great package for families, and is probably best enjoyed in that crowd as a gateway style game, rather than with your hard core gamer buddies. Fortunately it also plays quite quickly.

Screwage and interaction: The game is quick, light, and accessible, but there is real potential to play somewhat nasty, by focusing on throwing spokes into the wheel of your neighbour instead of building constructive routes for yourself. It's not too cut-throat, in my opinion, and being able to mess with the plans of your opponents will either be a plus or minus, depending on your appetite for direct interaction. When playing with the share system the interaction feels very different, much less confrontational and more subtle, since you don't know what colour other players are invested in, and sometimes you may even be unwittingly working together trying to maximize the route of a specific cable car company.

Tsuro for grown-ups: Comparisons with Tsuro are inevitable, given the wide exposure and success that game has enjoyed courtesy of Wil Wheaton's Tabletop. The earlier incarnations of Cable Car actually predate Tsuro, which was published in 2004, while Metro first appeared in 2000, and its predecessor Iron Horse even earlier. If you're coming from Tsuro, then Cable Car will in many ways feel like Tsuro on steroids. My children find Tsuro a little too simple, so from that perspective the basic Cable Car adds just enough elements to make playing the game more interesting.

Metro for gamers: Adding the mini-expansion with the stock market variant is a real positive that makes the Cable Car edition to be much preferred over Metro, and I can't speak about it highly enough. It really brings the game to a whole new level, while avoiding the pitfall of overburdening it with too many additional rules. Even the critics have to admit that this share system improves the game, making it more interesting and challenging. You're no longer focused on the fortunes of a single colour, but it's in your interests to work together with other players at times, or to diversify your holdings. New decisions arise by giving players the option to invest in different railroad companies as the game progresses. There's also a sense of players having secret objectives, since you have to try to surmise what companies your opponents are invested in based on their tile placement choices, and this adds a further and welcome dimension to the gameplay. While part of the beauty of the original Metro lies in its simplicity, those disenchanted with its limited options and hungry for more strategy should really appreciate the new challenges that the stock system brings to the game. As an added bonus, the new artwork in Cable Car is generally regarded as being prettier than that in Metro, although an argument can be made that functionality has been affected slightly in the process.

The fewer the better: Cable Car isn't the kind of game you want to play with a full complement of 6 players, even though theoretically it can handle that many. The reality is that with too many players the board will change quite drastically between turns, and inevitably introduce a sense of chaos and randomness. This is fine if you are playing very casually, but for most people this will just become frustrating. On the other hand, with just 2, 3, or 4 players, there's just the right mix of strategy and luck of the draw.


Keeping score

What do others think?

The criticism

So why might you not enjoy Cable Car?
● Many people compare Metro and Cable Car to Tsuro, not surprisingly given that they are route-connection games driven by tile-laying. Depending on your perspective, such a comparison is either a good thing or bad thing. Certainly Cable Car is a longer game, so if the puzzle and placement elements of Tsuro are not your thing then you probably won't like it here either, although there are also those who consider Cable Car superior rather than inferior to Tsuro precisely because it isn't as short and simple to the point of being simplistic.
● Some critics rightly point out that in games with 5 or more players, there is too much chaos and not enough control, and as already mentioned above, this is a legitimate concern.
● Other criticisms relate to the fact that tracing routes can at times be visually demanding, and while concerns about inducing dizziness and migraines are usually deliberate overstatements for humorous effect, I can see that some folk will find this aggravating.
● As for the often mentioned concern that the game can be quite vicious, the outcome sometimes depending too much on luck of the draw and the choices of other players in placing tiles to harm your routes? Certainly Cable Car does give room for screwage, so it's not the kind of game for people who don't like confrontational "take that" elements in their games. But on the plus side this means that there's a healthy degree of interaction that other gamers will enjoy, and being able to hurt your neighbour as an alternative to helping yourself is an option some people really appreciate.
● Other critics castigate the minimal theme, which admittedly is not much more than window-dressing for a puzzle-type experience. Yes, it is somewhat dry and puzzle-like, and either that's your kind of fun or it isn't.

The praise

Most people who praise the game speak highly of its simple rules, and the fact that it is a very approachable game that has a good balance between luck and strategy, offense and defense. Some of the positive comments about both Metro and Cable Car include the following:

Tile orientation matters

"This connection game blows Tsuro out of the water at any player count." - Kaffedrake
"My favorite gateway game. 30 minute play time. This is a diamond that nobody knows about." - Don Kimes
"Great connection game. You can play it nice or nasty, so it's good to play with kids." - Stacy Whiteman
"The best introductory game for non-gamers. Just tell them, first help yourself, then hurt someone else. Light but beautiful and fun to watch. " - Peter Evett
"Excellent 'sleeper' game. Not super well known but a great intro game to non-gamers. Quick playing and a lot of fun." - Allen Vailliencourt
"Really fun game that is like Tsuro on steroids." - Jeremy Tye
"Enough thinking to keep it from feeling like a filler, but light and fast enough to teach new players, even non gamers." - Meerkat
"For years this was my go to filler/gateway game. It is simple enough for anyone to learn in minutes, has simple decisions with some good player interaction." - John Middleton
"Very fun game. Accessible to all." - Philippe Grenier
"Love the tile-laying games and this is one that's a favorite! Love the puzzle-like qualities and the board looks magnificent when game draws to a close. " - Rhonda Quiroz
"Better than Metro, good as a gateway. Not for gamers. And just like Metro, it's not really for 5 and 6 players." - Laszlo Molnar
"A perennial favourite ... it's simple gameplay and lovely graphics provide a pleasing experience." - Jorage


The stock market expansion

As for the small expansion that adds shares to the original game, most people seem to like it, because it turns the simpler Metro from a mere tile-laying game into more of a share control system. Certainly the majority of gamers really seem to share my own appreciation for introducing such an element, as is evident from positive comments like these:

"Love the stock variant. It's a great game to play with kids, and then you can graduate them to the stock variant." - Chris Darden
"The new version with the shares is much better than the old one. Really a good game. " - Tom Hilgert
"I love the stocks and trying to outmaneuver opponent. It's fast and sort of middle-light, and really hits a sweet spot for me. " - Bess A
"This new version updates the basic mechanics with a 'share' variant that adds much more depth to the game, changing the original idea in a very basic way." - Barry Wonson
"While the game is easily accessible, it has strategic depth. You have to not only focus on lengthening the tracks of your trains, but also on reading your opponents' holdings and thwarting their efforts." - mhuggins123
"Metro with additional game variants that really do a good job of changing up the feeling of the game. A nice reimplementation of a solid title that makes one of my top filler games more versatile. " - John Middleton
"Favorite way to play is with the free expansion included with the game." - Shawn Curlis
"The cable car company variant makes it much more fun!" - Roy Tan
"Better to get this than Metro. Same game plus an extra. " - Mike T



Share cards

Recommendation

So, is Cable Car a game for you? If you're looking for an easy and attractive tile-laying game that offers a simple and puzzle-like route-building challenge, and don't mind a strong tactical focus with opportunity to mess with the plans of your opponents, then this is a great choice. Having the option to play a slightly more advanced game by adding a share system only makes the game all the more versatile and broadens its appeal to those looking for a slightly deeper experience. By giving people the option to play with the basic or advanced rules, Cable Car is a definite improvement over Metro, and turns it into a solid game with real potential to please groups outside the original target audience. Recommended.


Beginning of a five player game

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mb The complete list of Ender's pictorial reviews: http://www.boardgamegeek.com/geeklist/37596

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Your reviews make me want games so badly, I'm glad you're not selling drugs (you're not, right?).

Thanks for another fantastic review.

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It has been a while since I've seen a review from you. As always, well done. I read it more because you wrote it, but now you have me curious.

meeple Keep playing...
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Your reviews make my choice of games much more thoughtful and less prone to mistakes.

Thanks and keep going!
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We traded Tsuro due to it's simplicity. This game is now in our collection.

Yet another outstanding review. My thanks.
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David Boeren
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Although the stock variant sounds interesting, since I already own Metro I'm not sure it's really worth spending for the new version.
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Aron F.
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Another great review!

I'm really glad to see Metro get another makeover. Every since Tsuro came out and became popular, I've been a bit bitter that such a bad knock off of Metro became more popular than Metro. I honestly cannot stand Tsuro, just because every time I play it, I think "I could be playing Metro instead!"

The pictures of individual tiles make it clear that the artwork has improved, but then the pictures of the full board look confusing, in comparison with Metro. I would think that they could have used higher contrast for the lines, to make them easier to follow.

The included expansion sounds amazing. I may have to pick this up just for it.

Edit: Does anyone know where to get this in the U.S.? It appear to be out of stock most places.
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Chris Wood
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Can you play it like Tsuro, with 4 of your cable cars moving around? Also, how does this compare to Ta Yu?
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Baz Hemmons
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A truly professional review, thank you... Tsuro, and also the newish Knizia, Indigo, were both on my purchase horizon, but this looks like it may be an even better choice.
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Nailed it! Nice job
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Oh, I didn't know about the added stock variant. Sounds very interesting, and could elevate a game I thought was a little thin otherwise (I've only played Metro & Iron Horse, and thought Tsuro did it better).
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Excellent review of this superb game.
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So is this getting a re-release soon, Ender? Great review!
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Thanks for this review! I've been tempted to buy Tsyro because I find it elegant, but I have never spent the money because it is just too simple. I am definitely buying this one!
 
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Thanks for the great review! I'm not sure how you get the time to do so many quality reviews and play games as well. Anyway, based on your review I got myself a copy of the game and I'm very happy with it. We did a few games with the regular rules which were ok and have now upgraded to the shares rules and these did improve the game substantially.
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Péter Muhi
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Thanks for making this review!

I've just ordered the game for like 7-8 dollars, it should be a bargain, I hope we'll enjoy the game as much as you did.

One thing though, why do the coolest colors have to have the least tokens...moreover, why don't just include 16 tokens for each color? :\
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Another helpful, well presented, eye candy review. Thanks for the time and effort you put into your game reviews.
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