STATION MASTER 2020 (Calliope Games) is a beautifully revised version of the 2004 game of the same name (by me) from Mayfair Games. Compared to the original version this is so much superior in every department. Kickstarter offered two alternatives of the game: One being a Collector's Edition and the second being the Retail Edition. Now there is a second printing available for $30.00 which uses colourful counters that are easier for the players to handle and keep secret.
It hit its Kickstarter target ahead of time and went into production soon after. Sadly Covid and Brexit have caused several delays in it being received by pledgers on Kickstarter, with it arriving in places like New Zealand but struggling to reach the United Kingdom. This, of course hasn't helped it in any way towards gathering the following the production deserves.
The two versions look similar on the shelf but on opening it is found that the Kickstarter Edition comes with a magnetised folding cover, excellently illustrated by Andrew Hepworth to look like a stack of suitcases waiting to be loaded. The retail version has a regular box lid; both contain the strikingly visual cover art showing the Station Master waving his flag as a full train of holiday-makers head off to a vacation in the sun. The actual size of each box is the same.
The Kickstarter edition also has a set of Postcards, larger pictures of the games Engines, which make nice keepsakes for collectors who like something just that bit different. The Passenger chits, now wooden 3D items, are also different in each box; those in the Kickstarter variant being deemed more collectible simply because they are not otherwise available.
Apart from the box lid, the postcards and the player pieces, the game is the same whichever version you have. Some folk have preferred the pieces in the retail edition to those available only in the Kickstarter; if you took the special price option to purchase one of each set then you can use either set of pieces or use whichever pieces you like. If you want to keep the editions separate after playing it is very easy to sort the pieces out again.
So why would you want the 2020 edition of the game if you already have the 2004 version?
Well to begin with, the newer version is brighter, more colourful, more attractively packaged and thus more likely to fall into your vision on a game store shelf. Then there are the wooden pieces. These are shaped into items and objects well known to travellers - Boots, Suitcases, Teapots, Teacups, Top Hats, Briefcases etc - which when compared to the plastic mini-poker chips of the original are much nicer to view and to use.
The rules are very well laid out and easy to understand, even for new players. Because the original fell foul to some criticism about having to be good at Maths, there is a 'Railroad-Daily Schedule' (Ready Reckoner) page which makes multiplication easier. There is also a Phone App which will keep player's scores as you go: can be found on Google Play Store.
The visuals and brightness are not the only differences to the original, though it is worth mentioning again how glorious the new cards are in colour and illustration by comparison, there are also two major changes to the rules. The first being that one of the single '1' value passenger tokens has been replaced by a '-1' value token - a '0' was contemplated but the -1 adds more fun because it means any negative value of a Train becomes a positive score for the player who placed their negative one token. (Remember back to your days in Maths class at school when you learned that a negative times a negative is a positive)
The other change is the addition of Sub-Stations which are known as DEPOTS. These are added to a train in the same way as a carriage but do not count towards the allowance of carriages. When a Depot is placed,the passengers who boarded the train before it are immediately scored (as usual rules), and then passengers can be placed on the Depot. Each player begins with a Depot in hand and can play it instead of an Event or a Carriage.
These two tweaks really add extra thought and strategy to the game and are worth the price of admission on their own. For instance, it plays better with two players now, with these additions, than it did before, but it is still better with more players. 2-6 players aged 8+ are ably accommodated. It has a retail price of around £23.00. Games play in about 30 minutes, but if you are with a particularly amiable group the banter around the table, especially when a player neatly screws another, can extend play exponentially.
In these times of Lockdown, playing with just two players is becoming more and more likely and so games that not only say they are for 2 players plus, but actually work well with 2 players, are at a premium. STATION MASTER is such a game.
Make sure to consult the Action (Event) Card Glossary on Page #7 whenever such a card is played as, although they are generally quite straightforward, some cards have a few intricacies to remember. eg. The removal of BOTH cards after UNCOUPLE is played.
There are a couple of rules for 2-player games:
a) Remove 'Rush Hour' from the Deck and leave it in the box.
b) Place an extra Locomotive at the beginning (instead of one per player as usual place 3).
We have also found that TRANSFER cards can be too powerful with 2 players, as they stand. Instead we added these possible alternatives. One, remove TRANSFER cards altogether, or change the rule of TRANSFER so that you may only move YOUR own passengers. The latter can be as devastating as the former but games have shown us that in general this keeps play fun but still balanced fairly.
Another alternative you might like to try if you have less than six players is to include the remaining DEPOT cards in the deck. Yes, they say 'DEPOT' on their backs so you'll see them coming but they do add another dimension to play - once any Depot card has been played, either from your original hand or after picking one up from the deck and taking it into hand until used, it is removed from play; thus each DEPOT card is still only used once.
To ease new players into the game try having hands of 4 or 5 cards instead of 3 cards for the first game or two. Beware that you don't get too settled playing with the extra cards as it does change the player perspective and the game dynamic.