Even in this age of air travel, railroads hold a certain magical appeal. These games, several of which focus on the business aspect of railroads, are my picks for the best train games.
What are your favorite train games? Share your thoughts here.
1. Ticket to Ride
Ticket to Ride is an absolutely top-notch game (plus a number of expansions and follow-ups) with broad appeal, playing in less than an hour and providing a lot of depth without being complicated. Players compete to build railroad lines across the United States, trying to connect specific cities while preventing other players from reaching their goals. Winning requires a variety of smart strategic and tactical choices, giving Ticket to Ride considerable replay value. This is a terrific family strategy game. Learn more about all of the Ticket to Ride games in this Ticket to Ride photo gallery.
2. Steam: Rails to Riches / Age of Steam
These two games are closely related. In both of them, players compete to build railroads and deliver goods via a network of tracks and stations that develops as the game progresses. Both Steam: Rails to Riches (2009) and Age of Steam (originally released in 2002) are fairly described as heavyweight strategy games, and both are excellent. If you enjoy deep games that reward repeated play, I strongly recommend either Steam or Age of Steam. A third related game, also recommended, is Railroad Tycoon (2005), published by Eagle Games.
3. Union Pacific
A remake of Moon's earlier game Airlines, Union Pacific puts players in the role of railroad tycoons as they try to acquire stock in the best railroad companies. Players chose between expanding the companies or playing stock from their hand. But you must remember that when scoring takes place, only played stock counts.
In this railroad board game, players are challenged to build their own railroad lines -- but doing so, of course, costs a lot of money. So intelligent borrowing is one of the keys to victory. Volldampf is a cousin of Age of Steam and Steam.
5. Stephenson's RocketFor 2 to 4 players, ages 12 and up. Designed by Reiner Knizia, published by Rio Grande Games.
Many railroad board games are set in America; this one, designed by Reiner Knizia, is set in England. The game starts with seven companies and inevitably ends with just one. The winner is the player who earned the most money through the shrewd buying and selling of stock.
6. TransAmerica / TransEuropa
Unlike most railroad games, TransAmerica is light and quick to play. Each player must connect five U.S. cities with railroad tracks, placing one or two rails each turn (depending on the terrain). There's some debate about how much strategy is involved in TransAmerica, but it's fun enough to have won the 2002 Spiel des Jahres, Germany's award for Family Game of the Year. TransEuropa, a sequel, uses essentially the same game system on a map of Europe.
7. Freight TrainFor 2 to 5 players, ages 10 and up. Designed by Alan R. Moon, published by Mayfair Games.
Make sure you have a large table before starting this game; the trains tend to get pretty long. You earn points for building trains with the same cars, or for a train with every car being different. At the beginning of the game, having cars in your holding yard is good; by the end of the game, it's bad.
8. Chicago Express
Originally published by Winsome Games as Wabash Cannonball, Chicago Express is set on the east cost and in the midwest United States. Various railroads (the B&O, C&O, Pennsylvania and New York Central) compete to become the most profitable.
9. 1830: The Game of Railroads and Robber BaronsFor 2 to 6 players, ages 14 and up. Designed by Francis Tresham, published by Avalon Hill.
This game, in which players try to earn money by buying and selling stock in various railroad companies, is much more focused on the stock elements than on the railroad theme. 1830 features what has been described as "an extremely vicious, robber baron oriented stock market."
10. San Francisco Cable Car / Metro
This is another light, family-friendly train game. Players put square tiles on the board to form rail lines, trying to create lines that are as long as possible to connect their trains to a station. Along the way, you will probably also connect some of your opponents' lines, making them as short as possible. San Francisco Cable Car (first published as Metro) won a Mensa Select Award in 2001.