I will admit that the train theme is not one that immediately jumps out to me. I think it has been done to death. I can see why though. In the Euro Game market there are only a few different transportation types available….boat, trains or trucks. For some reason trains seem to be the most popular?? My only experience with train games before I got into the hobby was Ticket to Ride and I was not very impressed with it. It was fine, I just didn’t feel like I needed to play it again. The games on this list are games that don’t necessarily have a train theme throughout the game but use railroads in a unique and interesting way. One of the things I really like in game designs is when they add an extra mechanism to a game that makes the theme stand out even more. With that being said, here are my Best 3 Games with…Railroads!
3. Black Gold by Fantasy Flight Games
The main theme in Black Gold is striking it rich by building oil derricks and selling that smooth crude. The railroad system in this game is kind of a side mechanism but so influential to what you need to do…..and cut throat! In Black Gold you have two different vehicles, a truck to go searching the ground for oil and a train to be able to transfer that oil to companies you want to sell to. Each round you will have a specific amount of movement points to spend, split between the two vehicles. So you need to decide which vehicle would benefit you the most. You need to get oil, with your truck, but in order to transfer that oil FOR FREE, your train needs to be at the same level as your derricks. If its not, and another players train is….you pay that player to transfer your oil. If there are no trains that far, you lose your oil. Did I also mention that there are special cards that can move all the other players trains backwards on the tracks? Just brutal!! At the beginning of the game it only costs one movement point to move up the tracks, later on in the game it will cost you 2 or even 3 movement points to move up one. I really enjoy the railroad mechanism in Black Gold, designed by Wilko Manz and Steven Kimball.
2. Great Western Trail by Stronghold Games
Great Western Trail from Stronghold games is one of those games that railroads is just a small part of but the way it is implemented is really good. The game is all about rounding up cattle and making trips out west in order to sell cattle. Players will make the journey to Kansas City multiple times through out the game. Once they reach Kansas City they can then sell their cattle to far off homesteads as far as San Francisco. The railroad determines how far from Kansas City you can sell you cattle. The farther the better, and in many instances cities close to each other will also give bonuses. You really have to take time to make sure your train goes as far as you need it to go to optimize your profits. The thing is, you don’t even need to do the railroad in Great Western Trail to do well….it helps but is not necessary. Alexander Pfister continues to impress me with his games and the fluid thematic elements.
1. Russian Railroads by Z-Man Games
Russian Railroads is all about the railroads….hence the name. Players are trying to make a name for themselves by being the most influential railroad tycoon. Players will be laying down different kinds of tracks to different cities. You all start at Moscow and choose the path that you want to take from there, either St. Petersburg, Kiev or Vladivolstok. All three tracks play differently and score in different ways. I love that about this game. There are also different colors of tracks that have different point values associated with them. You really need to pick a track and commit to it as that is the only way to guarantee that you can maximize its scoring capacity in the end game. The only track that you need to make sure to at least do a little bit of is the Vladivostok line. That is what opens new colored tacks and gives you more points. You don’t have to focus on it though, you can but you don’t have to. I really love the design by Helmut Ohley and Leonhard Orgler of having three separate tracks with five different colored tracks to score. There is just a good puzzley feel that hits me in all the right places. Can’t wait to try the expansion, German Railroads, that gives even more variety!!