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What is the object of Train Raider? Be the Railroad King in the United States of America!
Train Raider is a board game about railroads in a world that resembles the United States of America in the latter 19th century. You operate your own companies and establish networks of railroads at the President's requests in order to win fame as the railroad king.
However, to establish railroads is not the only way to win fame. You can also employ professional assault groups, Train Raiders, to protect your benefits and disturb those of other companies, as winning fame (or ill fame) of your companies.
One of the features of Train Raider is that you draw railroads directly on the mapboard using colored pens. Once you play it, you will be surely fascinated by its mysterious charm.
- 10 trains
- 110 cards
- 5 colored pens
- 25 counters
- 2 markers
- 2 dice
- 5 reference sheets
- 5 product charts
Japan does not typically conjure up images of board games or trains. Yet, Train Raider is a Japanese designed and produced train game that may begin to change that. This very high quality production game is also original in its design and truly enjoyable to play, even though some parts require good dice rolling skills.
The game is situated in North America, and the board shows this in a non-typical projection but one that is highly accurate. You win by gaining "Honor Points", which can be earned by completing missions, expanding your rail network, and destroying other players' trains. The network building is separate from the missions, and trains destroyed in missions are lost only for that mission.
The game begins with only one city already being a "large city", and this is Memphis for a reason that seems to be related to geography only. Other cities on the map, and these include US, Canadian, and Mexican cities, either start as small cities which grow or don't exist at all until they are "born". Each city produces at least one of seven product types when small, and often adds a product type once they grow large. Every player chooses two home cities to begin, and coloring in the border of the city's square identifies this. Yes, this is a crayon game but it is not Empire Builder!
The network development pieces of the game are straightforward. Each turn, the start player rolls two dice to establish the development points for all players. In turn, everyone builds their network by expanding from a Home City or an existing line, using points from the dice as their limit. Appropriately, building into mountains or across rivers takes more points, and some areas cannot be built at all. In building your network your goal is twofold: first, to connect to more cites and earn the Honor Points, and second to give you the reach you need to complete a mission.
After everyone adds to their network, the start player chooses to execute a mission from a set of face-up cards. There are always mission cards available for anyone to claim equal to one less than the number of players. The missions are the heart of the action and they are also what make the game fun to play. There are five different types of mission in Train Raider:
- Transport a specific good to a city that needs it from one that produces it
- Race from one city to another, via a specific and often non-direct routing
- Combat your way to be the first to arrive at a newly born city
- Scramble to pick up an important passenger in one city and deliver them to another
- Connect two cities with your own rail network
The mission is then run, and players in turn roll dice to move their chosen train across the built networks to meet the prescribed goal. You move faster on your own network, and if an Armed Train meets up with either type of train there is a battle. Dice determine the battle outcome, with modifiers based on how you have improved your train using Train Cards. You can set up your train to be faster, have more firepower, or both, but each setting has a defined cost. A large enough positive net variance wipes out the weaker train and the mission continues until it is complete or cannot be completed. The person completing gains Honor Points for the completion and on some missions more than the first player in can gain. Destroying other trains earns Honor Points immediately, plus the board has a place to keep track of all Destruction Points earned. At the game end, the players with the most and second most total Destruction Points gain bonus Honor Points.
Things are kept off balance by the use of two card types. Event cards are drawn as part of each player's turn, and they determine the growth or birth of cities or create other effects that influence the network building or the mission runs. These cards cause certain spots on the board to flood, destroying rails built there and downgrading cities. Train Cards are more versatile and have three uses. First, they can be collected and used for their point values; a table on the board shows the point cost to upgrade your train to serve different purposes, and by playing enough points from your collected cards you can upgrade once per turn. Second, they can be used real-time in battles to help modify your dice roll or surprise your opponent. Third, they may hold a "secret mission" that only you know about, but by completing it you still gain Honor Points.
The Train Improvement Table is a nice feature of the game, since it allows you to adjust your train's capability to some extent for each mission. For a race mission, obviously speed wins, so by spending points from Train Cards you can get yourself to a position that improves your speed. In situations where battle is likely, different positions can add to your offense or defense. The Train Cards are a scare resource and using them properly is one of the key strategic elements of the game.
In play, the game moves fast and is straightforward in its sequencing. Cities are born quickly and grow quickly, and it is not long before a fairly complete network of lines is connecting many destinations. This makes more missions possible and improves the chance that everyone can compete for the mission, as well as providing options as to how to best run it. The train battles are truly fun, since you're knocking someone out of that mission (and gaining Honor for it) but that's the extent of it. Despite the name and the "battle" terms, this is no more a war game than Euphrat and Tigris.
The production of Train Raider is high quality, but it is completely in Japanese. The store I bought it from in Japan sent a very complete English translation of the rules, but to make the game really playable we added English language labels to the board for all of the cities and made a new set of cards rather than refer to a translation sheet. I also produced a summary of the game movements and of the "handy sheets" that are helpful for each player throughout the game. The artwork on the box and the quality of the game board are truly top notch. The box itself is amazingly sturdy.
While I bought this game mostly a curiosity (how many modern Japanese Board Games have you seen?!), it is clearly a worthwhile game to own. It is far superior to the Empire Builder games, and its appeal should easily extend beyond rail gamers. You can get a copy with the English Rule translation from "Gamestore Banesto" by e-mailing them at [email protected] Tell them that Ben-san sent you!