Anatomy of a Genre: Train Games, Part Two — Pickup and Delivery

Last week I started a multipart series on train games. In that article, I suggested that train games are usually built around three mechanics: all train games have connection mechanics, while some train games add on pickup-and-delivery mechanics and others add on stock holding mechanics.

This week I’m going to focus on the second main mechanic found in train games: pickup-and-delivery. I believe that train games using this mechanic are (in general) somewhat more complex than plain connections games … but don’t tend to be as difficult as stock holding games, which I’ll be talking about next week.

Pickup and Delivery

The cool thing about train games (and connections games of all sorts) is that once you have track you can do something with it. This is what gives rise to the second sort of train game, where you pickup goods and then deliver them using your existing network of rails.

Lunar Rails

Lunar Rails (Empire Builder)

There are two classics in the pickup-and-delivery train game genre: the crayon rail games starting with Empire Builder (1980) and the huge mass of related Martin Wallace games that center on Age of Steam (2002). Each of them does its pickup and its delivery in slightly different ways.

In Empire Builder — and the many, many related train games, of which my favorite is Iron Dragon (1994), thanks to its easy-to-find cities and its secondary underground map — there’s almost no contention for pickup-and-delivery. Contracts are privately held, and though goods aren’t unlimited in supply, it’s rare that a player can’t get a good if he wants it. As a result, the game becomes purely one of efficiency rather than competition: the player who is able to most effectively build out his rail line and to best balance multiple demands is the one who wins. Continue reading

Anatomy of a Genre: Train Games, Part One — Connections

A few weeks ago, I was playing a game of Martin Wallace’s Steel Driver, and when we finished one of the players asked, “Is that what most train games are like?” Though Steel Driver has some fairly typical features of train games, it doesn’t cover the entire spectrum of train game design. Overall, there actually aren’t a lot of games that cover all the features that you find in train games … and so I expounded for a while on my theory of train games — which is what follows.

In my opinion train games feature three main mechanics — connections, stock holding, and pickup and delivery — but few games feature all three.


Ticket to Ride with Aliens

Ticket to Ride

The fundamental mechanic that makes a train game a train game is connectivity — the act of building connections from place to place over a large board. Certainly, not all connection games are train games, as Michael Schacht has proven. However, I think that all train games are connection games.

In the modern day, Ticket to Ride (2004) is probably the definitive connection train game. The whole game is about collecting the resources (cards) to build tracks. You’re then rewarded with points, both for the actual building and for connecting up specific cities. Unlike most train games, Ticket to Ride allows you to build discontiguous rail lines, but the rewards for connecting cities usually preclude players from doing so. Metro (1997) and String Railway (2009) offer examples of even more minimalistic connections-only train game (the latter with strings!),

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