Choo choo! All aboard! Isle of Trains is ready to whisk you away to a land that loves trains so much, that they named their entire island after these steaming behemoths. If you are looking for route building, picking up things and delivering them across a continent, then you might want to go to the Isle of Other Train Games. But if you are looking for a big game in a small package, then stick around; Isle of Trains has something to show you.
What do I mean when I say “big game in a small box”? To me, that means that the game feels like it is more than the sum of its parts. The only parts of Isle of Trains are 54 cards and a small box. That’s it. That’s all. With just 54 cards, Isle of Trains creates the feeling that you are playing a game that cost three times as much. But how?!?
Each turn, each player takes two actions; draw a card, build part of a train or complete building, load cargo onto any train on the table, or deliver cargo. The end goal is to get the most points through valuable trains, profitable buildings, lucrative contracts, and leftover cargo. How you accomplish these objectives is all in the cards. The cards in your hands can be multiple things, giving you a lot to look at. Each card can be a train car, money, or a piece of cargo. Your hand is full of possibilities from the beginning of the game. Now you just need to figure out how make them get you to the end.
Many of the points of the game can be found in the center table, where contracts are ready to be snatched up by ambitious players. But in order to fulfil these contracts, you need cargo, and before you can get cargo, you need some train cars, and before you can get train cars, you need money to pay for it. Okay, that makes sense so far since cards from your hand can be spent to pay for engines, hoppers, tankers, boxcars, and buildings. The biggest obstacle is (and the most interesting aspect of the game) is that you have to discard down to five cards in your hand at the end of your turn. So if you thought you could just build up your hand to buy the biggest and best equipment, you are sorely mistaken.
This is where the game gets good, because you are constantly having to figure what cards need to stay and which ones will go. Upgrading your train is a great way to slowly pay for a really expensive boxcar, but will that take too long? Or have you found a way to get ten cards in your hand with your first action? That’s insane. Or is it?
You see, you can load your own train with cargo in order to fulfil contracts OR you can load other players trains for a huge benefit for yourself, like extra actions and cards. At this point you are thoroughly examining other trains trying to figure out what will benefit you the most while keeping your opponents from gaining an advantage. These combos can add up and it is a lot of fun to see how far you can go.
Isle of Trains is a fantastic game that accomplishes a lot in a little package. And I hate to say again that there are only 54 cards, because I don’t mean that it is a great game for its size. I mean to say that it is a great game and that the small deck of cards is just another bonus, lending portability and affordability to what could have been a bulkier game. And that is an amazing thing to see. I encourage you to climb aboard and check out Isle of Trains before it leaves the station. This is a train you want to catch.