It’s one of those strange quirks of anthropology – or the lasting influence of Thomas the Tank Engine – that people who are into boardgames are slightly more likely than the average person to be into trains, too. And so you’ll discover there are a huge number of games that use trains as a theme. But even if you’re not obsessed with locomotives, even if you didn’t marry a man named Stephenson just so you could call yourself “The Rocket”, even if you haven’t kept every ticket you ever bought before they ruined it all with Myki/Opal/whatever-they-have-in-Brisbane… these games are fun!
Eurorails is a classic title that still holds up
If you like drawing your own tracks on a dry-erase board with a crayon, this could be the game for you. First appearing in 1990, Eurorails is all about deciding where to lay your line, then building your empire by moving commodities from source to market. There’s also an Antipodean version if you’re feeling more patriotic during The Indian Pacific – it’s called Australian Rails, of course.
Ticket to Ride is a great gateway game
If you’ve only heard of one game on this list, it’s odds-on that game is Ticket to Ride. On a variety of different maps, players compete to lay down tiny plastic trains to complete routes and score big points. Or block other people from scoring big points (if you’re a jerk). It’s a very pretty game, easy to pick up, and one that demands a replay. And another. And another...
Colt Express is Wild West 3D awesomeness
Here’s the pitch: build a locomotive out of cardboard, pick a gunslinging train robber character and plan out where they’re going to go, what loot they’re picking up, whether they’re getting on the roof of the train to avoid the sheriff… Got all that? Once you’ve laid down cards in order of the steps you plan to take for the entire turn, everyone resolves their cards one at a time – in reverse order. Which means your plans are going to be ruined when another player punches you through to another carriage. It’s infuriating and fun in equal measure.
Steam is not for the faint of heart (or sore loser)
Steam is the kind of game where a wrong step in the opening few turns can mean grinding out an inevitable loss over the next hour or so. If that doesn’t sound fun, you’re not alone in your opinion. But for people who relish the chance to lay down tracks at an intense level against a backdrop of Industrial Revolution-era England, this is a game that shines.
The 18xx games are a genre unto themselves
The name comes from the fact that most of these games are about building up 19th-century railroad companies. These are heavy economic games for which the word “ruthless” was invented: it’s totally valid to do whatever it takes to get rich, even if that means behaving like the worst corporate raider Hollywood ever dreamed up. One of the most interesting lures in these games is that money owned by players and by the companies they run is separate. Whoever owns the most shares on a given turn calls the shots.
Whistle Stop is the new hotness
Something else you may not know about the boardgames scene – it’s incredibly faddy. There are so many titles being made every month now that there’s barely time to master a game before something new comes along. At the moment, Whistle Stop is probably the most popular new train game. In it, you lay track, ship cargo, buy shares, and build your reputation. It’s very pretty.
Make The Indian Pacific: Australia’s Longest Train Journey your soundtrack to an intense day of playing boardgames with your friends/family on Sunday 6 January, 7.30pm, SBS (3 hours) and/or Saturday 12 January, all day, SBS VICELAND.
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