Choo Choo, My Friends: Trans-Siberian Railroad

For years, the heaviest train game I played was Ticket To Ride and its European siblings. Then, I played Spike a few years ago and loved every play. We played that a lot for one whole summer, and I loved the aspect of building out routes, upgrading your trains, and delivering goods for points.

I had no need to get any deeper into train games. 18xx? How about 18NeauxWay!

Then we discovered the cube rail game system with plays of Irish Gauge. In essence, the shared capitalization of the trains, stock system, and development were shrunk down from the bigger train cousins in 18xx into a bite sized palate to enjoy. That’s much more to our liking, so if you are really, really, really into 18xx or have tons of experience in cube rail games, you should probably move on to the next blog.

We’ve spent the last few weeks as we enjoyed gaming again at the game store exploring all of the cube rail games in our collective collections this summer: Luzon Rails and then Irish Gauge last week. But this month, we finally got to play Trans-Siberian Railroad, a game re-published (in this edition) by Rio Grande Games, who sent us a review copy.

Trans-Siberian Railroad is a cube rail, stock investing train game for up to five players. The players are investing and building various railroad companies in Russia across the Siberian landscape.

There are basically two phases to the game, the first where players are trying to take train companies public (by buying enough stock to start building out the railroad lines) and the second where the players are desperately trying to beat two more railroad companies jumpstarted by the government AND prevent the companies that are in place from becoming “nationalized” (or bankrupt, in other words).

Getting to that second phase with healthy companies gives you the chance to sling shot into big points, but it takes some thought and skill. We are still neophytes into the cube rail system, but in the other games we’ve played, there is definitely a little cooperation but only long enough to jettison someone and zoom to first.

Trans-Siberian Railroad pits you against your friends as an investor building up rail lines all across the Siberian area of the Asian continent. Grab stocks in railroads betting that you (and perhaps your fellow player competitors) can drive the value of the stock way up as you add rail lines. Eastward expansion is the key, although there is some money to be made in hitting the ports on the edges of the map.

We encountered some unique mechanics, at least for us newbies to cube rail. First, you need a majority interest in a rail once it goes public to add rail lines, meaning you have to watch what the other players are doing. (I’m assuming this is an 18xx thing?) Second, you need to keep buying shares when the stock is low to ensure your train company doesn’t run out of funds and cannot expand.

And expand it has to, because at a certain point in the game, the twist happens: two new train companies are added, increasing the pressure, and the government starts nationalizing the companies that are lagging in value.

Hoo boy, there’s a lot of tension in the game! I played terribly in that first play, not realizing how important it is to invest in stocks early and then expand, expand, expand! But as terrible as I played, I hung around the top two until the last turn when I couldn’t get the blue train company to get over the hump and keep from getting nationalized.

I know, I know: #playbetter, right?

But wait, there’s more! John convinced us to take another crack at it at our recent Gumbo Game Night, and I am so glad we did! John had played a few times since the first encounter, and said we should not attack the stock prices in the same way we have done in other cube rail games.

We accepted his advice, and this time, we really made a conscious effort to keep pumping money into the stocks (by buying shares) and yet building in a careful manner. Trains were spreading out everywhere, jumping over each other at strategic points.

The yellow train had the full middle of Siberia locked up, yet barely stayed ahead of the other train companies which were busy making strategic moves toward the edges.

But the entire time, the building that we did in each of the train companies was more thoughtful and deliberate than the last time and it paid off. No more double stock / double track lay turns every single play for us. Nope – we were too smart for that this time!

Needless to say, the tension provided by the game, knowing when to invest and how much you can risk on any turn to build up your rail lines is one of my favorite things about TSR. It turns Trans-Siberian Railroad into a cooperative-til-it’s-not game, and reminded me a bit of QE, but with train development as the basis.

Who was going to get left holding worthless stock? The last person to get off the rocket, for sure.

ROUX DAT SAYS:

I was honestly very skeptical about the game just giving the graphic and art choices a quick glance. On the other hand, the cover art is very attractive to my eye, and as we got into the game, we realized that the minimalist style of the board focuses you in on what this game is all about — investing, expanding, cooperating and then cut-throating your way to victory.

Plus, I have to say, it has one of the best player aids that come with a train game that I have seen, with about 90% of the necessary info you need to play the game.

This admittedly would *not* be the first cube rail system game I would recommend, but if you have any taste for those games, Trans-Siberian Railroads will make you do a double take with how the twists and turns of the stock prices, developing and dividends reacts to player choices during the game.

It’s unpredictable, interactive, and fun.

I definitely want to play Trans-Siberian Railroad game again, the mark of any good game in my opinion. Our scores have been pretty close in every game, and I really feel like it came down to just a few strategic moves between us. Kudos to Amabel Holland, this is Stockpile + QE + Ponzi Scheme + trains all wrapped up in about an hour and a half cube rail game. Really enjoyed this play.

— BJ @boardgamegumbo

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