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.
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!),