Trick of the Rails Kickstarter Preview

Trick of the Rails, which is finishing up its run on Kickstarter in the next couple of days, is a trick-taking game for 3-5 players from Terra Nova Games.  In it, players will compete to gain the most points by both building out 5 different rail companies and by purchasing stock in the companies which are worth the most.

Over the course of the game, players will alternate between turns spent acquiring rail company stock and turns spent building up the value of the companies which they own the most stock in…or subverting the value of their competitors’ stocks.

(Kickstarter Prototype Stuff – All images are either from the Kickstarter page or taken of prototype components set to us.  That said, we think it looks great and hope it doesn’t change.)

Prototype art stolen from the KS page, but it really does have a beautiful, simple aesthetic.
Prototype art stolen from the KS page, but it really does have a beautiful, simple aesthetic.

During setup, you will form a line of cards (depending on player count) that will act as the game timer, as well as determine which rules will be in effect during each round.  Rounds consist of a single trick, with the lead player setting the suit (from among the 5 rail companies), and each player trying to play the highest card from that suit they are able…most of the time, anyway (sometimes it is to a player’s advantage to lose a trick).  Gameplay shifts between two types of rounds, with each trick resulting in different consequences for both winner and losers.

  • In Stock rounds, the winner adds the leftmost stock card to their tableau as a stock for themselves.  Losing players instead add the cards they played to their own tableaus as stocks.  The value of these stocks will be determined over the course of the game.
  • In Operating rounds, the cards that players play will get added to whichever rail matches their color, with the trick winner also adding either the city card or train card to a rail of their choice.  City cards add value to a rail, while train cards determine how many of that rail’s cards will qualify for scoring at the end of the game.
The row of cards that dictates each round, including stocks, trains, and destination cards.
The row of cards that dictates each round, including stocks, trains, and destination cards.

Scoring in Trick of the Rails is a little complex.  Once the last trick is done, each rail line is evaluated separately.  The trains attached to the rails determine how many of the rail cards can be counted towards that line’s value.  Those cards are added up and (after subtracting the cost of the train), that determines the value of each individual stock of that rail’s color.  Having determine the value of each stock, players then add up the stocks they have amassed, and the player with the highest score wins.

So, if we got it right, this line has a '3' train, so we add up the 3 most valuable cards (80), subtract the cost of the train (40) to get the value of each blue shares - 40.
So, if we got it right, this line has a ‘3’ train, so we add up the 3 most valuable cards (80), subtract the cost of the train (40) to get the value of each blue shares – 40.

andrewasmAndrew:  Now, if that quick summary of the rules seems just a touch convoluted, well, that’s fair.  Because while Trick of the Rails is not a mechanically complex game, there is something about it that makes abbreviating the rules somewhat difficult.  It wasn’t until halfway through our first game that things really started to click.  But after that, it was smooth sailing…er, railing.

jessasmJess:  Hey now!

joshasmJosh:  *Ahem*  Actually, I found it finicky all the way through.  Not sure if it was just me or what, but the scoring rules didn’t make sense until the very end of the game, and I never felt like I had a real strategy.

Rail companies will grow in value as the game goes on. Hopefully you have the cards necessary to get on board.
Rail companies will grow in value as the game goes on. Hopefully you have the cards necessary to get on board.

jessasmJess:  Yeah, I’m not so sure about this one.  Usually, in trick-taking, you have multiple hands to smooth out the random luck of the draw, but in Trick of the Rails, you start with all the cards you’re getting.  And if your hand is dominated by one color, and that color gets screwed early, there isn’t much you can do about it.

andrewasmAndrew:  I agree with both of you, actually, except for the fact that I actually enjoyed the game.  I like the whole scoring system, I like jockeying for control over the tricks in an attempt to favor my rails.  On the other hand, Jess is spot-on about the suit issue – get a bad hand and you’re in trouble.  It’s something I don’t like about the game, but there are lots of things I do.

For such an elegant little game, it sure is a space hog.
For such an elegant little game, it sure is a space hog.

So, as you can see, we’re actually pretty split on Trick of the Rails.  We all like trick-taking games, so there’s no issue there, but for Jess and Josh, it came off as fiddly and a bit unintuitive.  I, however, didn’t feel that way, particularly, and after the first play, I felt like it was actually pretty inviting.  Not without its design issues, but certainly not a bad game, and one I had fun with.

andrewasmAndrew:  Maybe it’s a ‘J’ thing.

jessasmjoshasmJess & Josh:  Hey!

The Trick of the Rails Kickstarter is winding down, with less than 3 days to go, and is well past funded already.  Honestly, I think its worth grabbing, especially for the price.  We suggest you head on over to the Trick of the Rails Kickstarter page and check it out for yourself!

(Thanks to Terra Nova Games for providing us with our review copy of Trick of the Rails. Their generosity didn’t influence our opinions)

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