TAKE A TRAIN is a game for 2-6 players aged 8+. Designed by Violetta Kijowska & Marci Ropka and Published and Distributed by the excellent Polish Games Company G3. [ www.g3poland.com ]
TAKE A TRAIN may look like a family game, the briefness of the rules may propose it to be a family game, and its 30-60 minute suggested playing time may give the impression that it's a family game, but in truth it is anything but. This is a cleverly disguised light-strategy game for players used to the European gaming style. It is basically a card game with assorted knobs on and it is those assorted knobs that are the substance of the playing.
The are just 8 pages of highly coloured glossy paper supplied as a booklet with the game, in English, of which only 5 contain Setup and Game Rules. The other 3 pages are the Front Cover, Components, and Token Descriptions. It is with the Token Descriptions that we encountered our first of the two possible translation malfunctions, both of which will have their correct explanation explained here. I am being pedantic about these rules because each has two possible meanings, one meaning a little more logical than the other, but still could possibly cause confusion, especially to players who like to play to the letter of the rules. Just because a rules doesn't say you can't do something it doesn't mean that you can. Apart from the first one, every description for the "Purpose" tokens begins with the words "If at any time during the game ..... ". This is not actually true, the tokens cannot be used "any time during the game" they can only be used once every player owns 3 Trains according to my source at G3 Poland.
You always need to meet the conditions for the tokens but there is one specific possibility that happened during one of our games where one player was dealt both the MAX km/h and the MIN km/h Tokens. The description for these tokens is that "if at any time during the game you have the Locomotive with the Highest (Max)/Lowest (Min) speed ... " there is a monetary reward. The description does also say "out of the locomotives owned by all the players" but never mentions that all the players must have 3 locomotives before the tokens (any of them, not just the aforementioned two) can be used. Thus our player argued (succinctly and quite cleverly really) that when he bought his first locomotive of the auction (actually he bought the first locomotive of the game) he could collect on both tokens because technically at that moment (at any time during the game) he had both the MAX and the MIN km/h locomotive owned by all the players. Our G3 source has set the record straight on this: "The Tokens can be used at any time during play but only after all players own three locomotives". It's the "any time" that is confusing because the tokens can only be used when you have met their requirements and there is no point in hanging onto them, in fact fulfilling them is a tie-breaker in case of a draw on the amount of money earned.
The second possible rule confusion is with one of the Special cards of which there are five. Basically the explanation for the card says that when the BIN card is revealed all the faced-up wagon cards are discarded. What this suggests is that ALL face up wagon cards are discarded, sounds simple. The confusion is that the players are building their trains by placing face up wagon cards against their locomotives and so it could be assumed that as these are both face up and wagon cards they are discarded when the BIN card is drawn. What is actually meant is that the four cards in the display of wagon cards from which the players choose a wagon each round is discarded and four new cards are drawn and positioned on the display. Commonsense and being experienced players of European boardgames told us to go with our gut and only discard the 4 cards on display, but if one of us had wanted to be pedantic about it there is cause for discussion, if not an argument. Now that our minor rules complications have been discussed and put to bed, let's talk about the game itself.
As already mentioned, players are randomly dealt three Purpose Tokens which they keep to themselves. Letting other players know what your missions are (Purpose Tokens are basically Missions) means that cards you need may be taken by the other players simply to prevent you fulfilling your purpose. At first glance, and indeed we felt during a few of the many games we have played, that the Purpose Tokens are a little off balance, especially the collecting tasks. If you read the rules booklet you will notice that there are 7 Steam, 6 Diesel and 5 Electric locomotive cards. One of the Purpose Tokens is to have 3 Diesel locomotives for a bonus of $800, while another Token earns you only $300 for having 3 Electric locomotives and a third Token hands out $1500 for 3 Steam locos. First off consider that there are more Diesel than Electric and more Steam than Diesel; thus it should be easier to get 3 Steam than it is 3 Electric, yet the bonus for collecting the 3 Electric is 5 times less than that for collecting 3 Steam. Then if you are playing with 4 players, 6 of the 18 locomotive cards are randomly removed from the deck. leaving just 12 cards and even more chance of getting 3 Steam locos.
The Auction possibilities are as follows; Blind: One player takes three random locomotives, looks at them and determines which one will be auctioned using the closed hand method, highest bid wins, tied bids are secretly added to, or not, by the players involved. Double Blind: The same as Blind except each player reveals one hand containing a bid and then a second blind bid. This actually works better if everyone gets to make their second bid (adding the amount to their first bid) after seeing all the first bids, thus having an idea of what vthe price may be. As it is explained though, the players simply make two blind bids which really adds nothing to the game play. The Preemptive Bid has enough locomotives placed out one per player, and is then basically one round of blind bidding with the highest bidder choosing one of the cards, second highest and then so on in order down to the lowest bid getting the remaining locomotive. The Open Auction has the first player opening the bidding with at least the value of the locomotive (they may pass and not bid) and then bidding is in clockwise order until all players bar one has dropped out. The final Auction is the Twist. Three locomotives are dealt to each player, they select one and pass two on, then select one from the two they receive and pass one on so that all players now have three locomotives for which they must pay the total value of the three cards they hold multiplied by the xN of their highest valued locomotive, in this case the value of the locomotives is decided by the Power of each train; the power being in the top left corner of the card and marked with a lightning flash.
It is possible, by bad luck or more likely bad planning, for a player not to win locomotives in the Auctions. If it happens that a player has only one locomotive when all other players have three, then that player takes the remaining 2 locomotives and pays for one of them at its base cost. The other locomotive is turned face down and used as the third train for that player, but at a disadvantage, it has no multiplier and it only counts the value of the highest single wagon played on it. This ensures that players cannot just gain two or three very cheap or free locomotives as might happen in other card games (not necessarily trains) with a somewhat similar style of mechanic where everyone has to begin with the same number of a certain card type.
The game is played over three Rounds. These Rounds consist of the players first buying or obtaining three locomotives each. The means of the auction being decided by a random draw from a face down pile of 6 Auction tokens - each Token determines a different auction style and as there are only three Rounds per game, and 6 Auction Tokens it is most likely that every game will be slightly different. Once each player has their three locomotives the next phase of the round begins. This is where the players obtain the Wagons for their trains. There are many different types of Wagon, identified by colour and shape; Coal wagons are Blue for example. Each locomotive can only pull similar wagons and each player may not have more than one train pulling the same wagon type. Thus player A could have trains pulling Blue, Yellow and Red, player B could hvae trains pulling Red, Green and Blue and player C's trains have carriages could be Purple, Brown and Green - in fact any combination of the wagons amongst the players as long as no one player is building two trains pulling the same colour wagons.
When one player places the fifth wagon onto any one of their trains then the round ends and the players gain cash depending on how much haulage they have accumulated. The locomotives each have a multiplier, x1, x2, x3 or x4 and the wagons are valued from $50 upwards. Each player adds up the value of the wagons on each of their trains separately and tallies the three amounts, collecting that amount of cash from the bank. To determine the value of each train add up the values of the wagons on it and multiply that total by the multiplier on the locomotive.
On their turn players select one of the face up wagons and adds it to one of their trains, if they already have wagons on their three locomotives they may not select a wagon of a different colour. If the player doesn't like any of the four wagon cards available to them they may pay an amount to have all four cards discarded and four new cards placed. They can do this as often as they like (and can afford) but as the object is to have the most money at the game end it isn't advisable to do this too often. The price paid depends on where the player is in the Turn order for the Round. Players do not have to take a wagon or change the display, they can simply pass. However if all players pass consecutively then the Round ends even if nobody yet has five wagons on a locomotive. One of the Special cards extends this game rule to 6 wagons instead of 5. All Special cards are discarded as they are one shot only events per Round, two are actually only ever used once in a game and are returned to the box once they have been drawn.
There are strategies in collecting cards and knowing when to Pass and when to change the display. There are times when it may be possible to end the Round by taking your fifth card for a locomotive but it may be more lucrative to add a more expensive other card to another train than to end the Round then and there.
TAKE A TRAIN is a very clever game with multi-mechanics. Once you have played a few times it runs really smoothly as you aren't always passing the rules booklet around to check up on your Purpose Tokens etc. Card counters will find it easy to estimate the likelihood of what the next card may be, though the randomness and the removal of some cards has been introduced to try to remove that particular professional skill. Also, without having to check the Token uses, the game easily plays through at about 10 minutes per player.
At Games Gazette Online we have played TAKE A TRAIN multiple times and enjoyed it every time. We use the rules supplied by our source at G3. as I have relayed them here, though to be honest that first game was quite spiritful and entertaining with all the discussions over the possibilities, even though logic won out in the end. I would happily recommend TAKE A TRAIN to all my card/board game playing friends as a good entertainment, a game to play and enjoy in a short evening or at a games playing weekend.