Toot Toot! Grab your smartest conductor’s hat as we steam round the Isle of Trains: All Aboard by Dranda Games!
*Engine Building * End Game Bonuses *Action selection* Set Collection * Worker Placement * Solo Mode * Open Drafting * Hand Management * multiple use cards * Contracts * Strategy *
I love train games! I don’t know why. I’m not a train spotter or even an avid train traveller, but I can’t get enough of train themed games. Even my husband’s ancient copy of Ivor the Engine board game makes me smile (although that could also be something to do with the eleventy billion, cute wooden sheeples inside the box!).
So when I saw Isle of Trains: All Aboard at UKGE, I was drawn to it. Like a moth to a flaming coal burning steam engine, I made a beeline to talk to the folks at Dranda Games. And I am super excited to say that they were happy for me to jump on and play with their train game!
Before we get to toot our horns however, I need to clarify that I have only played a prototype of Isle of Trains; All Aboard. This means that the game and game play I describe could be different to the finished product once the campaign ends and production begins. For anyone unfamiliar with crowd-funding, Kickstarter is a platform used to raise money to get an idea from paper to people. And when it relates to boardgames, it becomes a promise to make and deliver a game based on the ideas the designer is offering if enough money can be raised. Concept to Cardboard. As Isle of Trains feels pretty complete, I’m hoping nothing major is going to change in terms of the rules between now and then. But never say never! And sometimes inspiration steams into a designer after a campaign smashes its target. So, just to be clear, everything I say is based on the prototype copy I have played. Cool? Okay, let’s get going!
Start your Engines!
Isle of Trains is a small box, card based engine building game. And I mean that thematically as well as mechanically – you are building an engine whilst, well, building an engine! Love me some meta gaming!
Playing conductors tasked with creating a locomotive on the island, you face stiff and steamy competition. As such, you’ve got to be the best when it comes to loading goods, fulfilling cargo contracts, and transporting passengers to their destinations. How do you do it? Well, you give Thomas and his friends, not to mention good old Ivor, a run for their money. You build the greatest engine you can!
Stoke ‘Em Up!
Setting up the game is simple. Give everybody a Level 1 Engine then shuffle all the train cards (which include buildings) and give each player 5 face down into their hand. Lay 3 face up into a display and then place the rest face down in a draw pile next to it. After setting out the progress track (keeping the train token close by), island cards and destination station tiles, give the bag of meeples a good shake (note that the meeples in the photos are the Deluxe Kickstarter upgrade) and you’re ready to roll!
The game length depends on the number of players – it ends when the progress track (which records how many island destination contract cards have been claimed) reaches 4/5/6 in a 2/3/4 player game, or the draw deck has run out (i.e. all cards are in play).
The Train is Leaving the Station!
Straight off, the things that really appeal to me about Isle of Trains; All Aboard are the simple rules and the multiple-use cards. The train cards are your everything in this game. They are your rolling stock. They are your cargo. They are your money. And they are (together with passengers) your key to unlocking so many bonus moves (more on this later!).
But I said easy rules first, so here’s a brief summary. Each turn, you take 2 out of 4 simple actions (which can be the same or different):
- Take a train card from the display or a random from the top of the deck into your hand;
- Build or upgrade an existing train car or building by paying the cost on the card you want to build using that number of cards from your hand (you pay the difference in cost in the case of an upgrade);
- Load a passenger or cargo (i.e. a train card from your hand) onto one of your own train cars or onto an opponent’s train car; or
- Deliver cargo to a destination island card to fulfil a contract, or deliver a passenger to a destination station ticket tile.
At the end of your turn, discard down to 5 train cards in your hand and it’s the next player’s turn. The game ends when (as mentioned above), the required number of island destination contract cards are taken or there are no cards left to draw. Then it’s point totalling time!!
Now, whilst the rules specify that you can take only 2 actions per turn. That’s not strictly true. No rule breaking, of course. But if you’re smart and sneaky, you can serious combo up and chain a whole heap of gloriously steamy bonus actions. Seriously, 2 can become 3, or 4, or 5……. And these don’t even count as part of your basic 2! Toot Toot-tastic!
You see, in Isle of Trains; All Aboard, you can leverage the cards in your hand and the passengers you have waiting for immediate benefits in ways that your own engine cannot produce.
Don’t get me wrong, your own engine is good for long-term points. Having lots of capacity for loading cargo and passengers is good for fulfilling VP laden island contract. Not to mention gaining access to station ticket tiles for bonus actions and points as well as kicking the ongoing benefits awarded by your own Caboose cars into action.
But that takes time. You’ll be lining up 3 or 4 turns to get a good chain running and there’s no guarantee that it won’t be affected by your opponents. And that’s because most of the best immediate bonuses only come from utilising the cars and capacity your opposition has! Yep, you can get more by using someone else’s train cars that your own ones might give you! And that means so can they!
Sometimes giving them access to cargo and passengers that they can ultimately use against you is worth it. Sometimes, however, you’ll live to regret it. Seriously. Remorse can hit you like a freight train coming!
Having said that, it’s not a free for all. There are restrictions on how you (and they) get to use these bonus actions. And because of that, having an extra loading opportunity action might not always be as valuable when you know you have to fill up your own train. Crunch on crunch; there’s a lot to this little engine game!
Either way, one big consideration in Isle of Trains; All Aboard is what your little train can pull. Whether you want to make your train look appealing to opponents overburdened with passengers or cargo. Or whether you need the loading capacity yourself, you are going to have to think about upgrades throughout the game. And Cabooses with their ongoing powers for you to use are always going to appeal!
But, because each train car weighs a different amount, your little engine is going to run out of steam, and fast! As such, you’ve got to manage your hand so that you have the right number of cards to boost your pulling power, not to mention carrying the type of cargo that is going to get you those contracts you have your eye on!
Our first game was a real eye opener. Whilst I was burning through cards and never seemed to have enough, my husband was stockpiling such that he had to discard down to 5 at the end of practically every turn. And that meant my focus quickly settled on how to get extra cards – delivering passengers to Alpine Lodge and Camp Eagle as well as using his train cards to draw more cards. As a result, he was merrily upgrading and had a veritable bounty of cargo to deliver and fulfil contracts!
And that is the crunchy cargo carrying core of Isle of Trains; All Aboard. With its ode to worker placement/Pick up and deliver, definite hand management, and of course engine building mechanics, every decision is a trade-off. Actions you take now could benefit others down the line which might ultimately lead to your downfall. But if you don’t take them, your engine might not even fire up! Cucumber on a cracker, that’s some crunch for a deck of cards and a few tokens!
A Theme Train!
From the types of train cars that can only be loaded with matching cargo (an oil tanker won’t take dirty coal no matter how much you try to sneak it in), to the weight your little engine can pull; there are so many little touches that make me feel like I am building my own little train. And I’m definitely liking it when my train grows and pulls a bunch of different train cars.
And that is a cool thing about this game – there are multiple paths to victory points. If you want to focus on extending your train and upgrading your building for car points and cargo points, you can. If you want to go heavy on foot-traffic and get specific passengers to VP producing stations then you can. At some point, you’ll need to take some Island destination contract cards (you can’t be playing with your train all day!). But even when you do, if the game is still rolling, you’ve got another two opportunities to fulfil the bigger contracts on them for even more points!
Power to the Passengers!
During our games so far, I get the feeling that passengers can be very powerful. Particularly as buying cars and buildings can cost so much and you always have to discard down to 5 cards at the end of each turn. And although the passenger supply is limited (only 18 for the whole game), there are more available to each player at lower counts. On that basis, points and bonus actions stemming from loading and delivering them destinations in 2 player games have, for us anyway, come thick and fast. More so than at 3 or 4 player count. And whilst we have only played this game at the higher counts once each (meaning that the group dynamic may have just favoured fewer passenger actions), it could also be that the risk of giving people power to other players (with less certainty of getting a future chance yourself) feels too great. Regardless, if players have equal access and chances of getting passengers, as they don’t trigger the end of them game themselves, it should not matter how many are available to use
Having rolled through the prototype several times now, Isle of trains; All Aboard feels like a clever, interactive, decision dilemma centred card based game that definitely hits the spot thematically. It’s the smart, crunchy little engine that could.
All Aboard……. Again?
I should mention that this game is actually a re-implementation of an older card based engine building game, also called Isle of Trains. That version appears to be loved by those who played it, but it sort of went under the radar. I haven’t played the original myself, but the publisher has hinted at some changes aside from the obvious artwork upgrade including more cards, new abilities, passengers, new bonuses and paths to victory points, as well as a cracking looking solo campaign. On that basis, even if you own or have played the predecessor to this revamp, it sounds like there should be more than enough to make you consider a fresh pledge!
I’m certainly looking forward to trying out the solo mode next, and I’ll be sure to update my review when I have had a chance to steam through the campaign!
If you’d like to know more about Isle of Trains; All Aboard and when it is launching on Kickstarter, head to their campaign page or visit Dranda Games on the web, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter for more information!
Please note that a copy of this preview copy was kindly provided by the publishers for review. I am not paid for my comments, however, and all opinions are my own]. I am also not affiliated to or sponsored by any retail store.