Updated: Oct 24
Building rail networks has long been a popular board game theme. It's a theme that covers every level of difficulty and complexity. There's a long series of relatively complex 18XX games involving the development of the railways in the 19th Century and usually involving an accompanying element of investment strategy. At the more accessible level, there's Days of Wonder's ever-popular Ticket to Ride (TTR) franchise, which seems to spawn a couple of new editions every year.
Board&Dice's new title, Traintopia, is another gateway game that's broadly on a par with TTR in terms of ease of play. In this tile placement game, the 2-4 players are each building their own rail network using the tiles they select from the common display. Each round, players will make a total of three picks from a display that includes a set number of tiles (usually 5 or 6, but sometimes as few as 3), and special meeples that each offer their own scoring opportunities dependent on the railway line on which they are played. The green, yellow and grey commuter meeples score for each matching colour district along the track; white tourist meeples score for each adjacent landmark (you'll find your railway is serving a population with an insane number of football stadiums). There are substantial end-game bonuses to be earned for completing railway lines that begin and end at stations and for completing the hidden objective you are dealt at the start of the game. And you can double the score for any line on which you've placed a mailbag. Every set of three money tokens you collect can be exchanged for a special action, including drafting an extra tile or swapping your objective card.
Tho' the mechanics are simple, Przemek Wojtkowiak has designed a game that gives players ample agency over their actions. You may be left with limited options for your third pick, but you'll have plenty to weigh up over at least the first and second picks each round. Do you focus on taking tiles that extend your network or do you collect passengers who deliver an immediate points score?
Traintopia is a good natured game with attractive art by Jakub Fajtanowski and Zbigniew Umgelter. There's no 'take that' element: I might take a tile or meeple you'd have liked to have had but there's otherwise little interaction between our competing networks. This adds to Traintopia's appeal as a light family game. Meanwhile, seasoned gamers will appreciate the opportunities the game offers for point score optimisation. You'll enjoy attracting commuters and tourists to your railways, and none of them will need a ticket to ride.
(Review by Selwyn Ward)