Engine Building Fun with “Isle of Trains: All Aboard” Game

isle of trains all aboard game - boxThere are some classic themes in the board gaming world, including road trips. Think Monopoly: You’re literally just driving in circles around Atlantic City hoping to acquire and develop property before your opponents do so. Another theme that’s been a part of board gaming for decades is railroad expansion and area control. I remember playing epic games of Rail Baron back in the 1980s, for example, where we were competing to dominate the transcontinental railway infrastructure in a burgeoning American West. I like railway games, from Ticket to Ride to Railways of the World to Age of Steam and even Paris Metro. When I bumped into Isle of Trains: All Aboard, I was definitely intrigued. “All Aboard” is a much improved and expanded version of a 2014’s card game Isle of Trains, and it’s terrific.

Dranda Games sent me a preview copy of Isle of Trains: All Aboard that’s just about finalized, though there were some last-minute tweaks to some of the cards and the rules were a printed PDF, not a full-color instruction booklet. The game is for 1-4 players and its solo mode includes a variety of challenges and variations, as does the multi-player version. Solo play also evolved while I was going through the review process, and a few things might yet change a bit more by the time it’s a final production version you can add to your favorites shelf. With that caveat, I wanted to share a solo game so you can get a flavor of this fun, portable, and easily learned game.

ISLE OF TRAINS: ALL ABOARD SETUP

As always the first challenge is to figure out the setup, which primarily consists of laying out the six area cards, their destination tiles, and six ticket tiles. All setup, it looks like this:

isle of trains all aboard game - area setup

Notice that the star at the center of each island zone matches the color of the destination tile (for example, Camp Eagle has a dark orange star and a dark orange destination title. This is more easily seen if we zoom in on Camp Eagle:

isle of trains all aboard game - camp eagle close up

The ticket tile shows the reward obtained for dropping off the first, second, and third passengers to the area. 4 victory points, 3 victory points, then 2 victory points. These rewards can be the addition of more cards to your hand, free load, build, or deliver actions, and more, and they’re critical to the game.

On the island card for Camp Eagle notice the color match between the star on the card and the destination tile. The card can be taken out of the play area by fulfilling its delivery requirements, but you can still deliver appropriately color-matched passengers to that area anyway, hence the destination tiles!

The combination of cargo required to earn points at a destination is known as a “contract” and on the above, you can see that the basic contract (top left) is to deliver two boxes, and it’s worth 7 victory points. Once you’ve accomplished that, you pull the card into your own playing area and cannot fulfill another area’s basic contract until you’ve fulfilled one of the secondary contracts on this card. The secondary contracts are on the right: 2 oil + 3 boxes for an additional 14 points, or 1 coal, 1 oil, and 2 boxes for an additional 10 points. Once you’ve delivered one of the secondary contracts, you flip the card over and slot it behind your train engine with the contract you’ve fulfilled at the top. You’ll see what I mean in a moment. Note that if you fulfill the basic contract and the more challenging of the secondary contracts, you’ll earn 21 victory points!

All set up, you’ll have a starting zero-point engine, two starting passengers (at the station, not on your train), five cards dealt to you, and three cards in the marketplace:

isle of trains all aboard game - solo game setup

The canvas bag holds the passenger meeple (notice that my starting passengers are an orange and aqua meeple on the lower left), and the pile of victory point tokens is close at hand, ready for me to earn extra points.

Every train has exactly one engine and can have an optional caboose if you so desire. Otherwise, you can add as many cars to your train as your engine capacity allows. Engines have a pull capacity that must be greater or equal to the collective weight of all cars attached. Every card also has a capacity for freight or passengers, and most every card has a bonus you accrue each time you load it up. Just as important, every card has a cost, denoted in the gold circle, that you pay in discarded cards.

Let’s have a closer look:

isle of trains all aboard game - train close up

This is my first build out of my starting hand: I still have the starting Level 1 train, so my towing capacity is 4 (the information on the lower right). It’s worth zero victory points (the silver star on the top left), and has a capacity of 1 passenger (the ‘1’ in the box shows capacity, and the white icon represents a passenger). Load a passenger on the engine and the reward is you get to pick 2 cards from the deck.  I’m adding a Level 2 Hopper, which has a cost of 4 (the number in the gold circle), is worth a respectable 5 victory points, has a capacity of two coal, and a load reward of two cards and a free build action. It’s heavy, though, taking up two of my total four towing capacity with this starting train engine.

The final piece of this solo gaming puzzle is that the icons immediately below the cost, duplicated on the right side of the card, represent the cargo that it can instead represent if you want to use it as cargo instead of a train component. The Level 1 Engine, for example, can be a coal, oil, or cargo box, while the Level 2 Hopper could also be used as 1 oil. The big points in the game come from building a train with a capacity that matches a specific area contract (or secondary contract), loading up the train with that cargo, and delivering it.

Here’s an overview of all the cards in my starting hand. See if you can figure out their cost and benefits!

isle of trains all aboard game - close up of train cards

Notice that Caboose 8 and Caboose 4 have an additional benefit, a white icon on the top right. Caboose 4 (the lower one) gives you a passenger when you build it, and Caboose 8 gives you two passengers when you build it. Remember that they don’t show up on the caboose, they show up at your station and will need to be loaded before they’re dropped off somewhere in Isle of Trains.

PLAYING ISLE OF TRAINS: ALL ABOARD

Turns in the solo game consist of you taking two actions, either Take, Build, Load, or Deliver, followed by a “night” mode where one card is discarded from the train deck and you are forced to reduce your hand down to a max of 5 cards. Take allows you to take a passenger randomly from the bag or one card, either a face-up card in the marketplace or the top card of the train deck. Build lets you add to your train, paying the appropriate cost in discarded cards and ensuring it can be towed with the current engine you have, or add an actual building to your tableau (max of one building, but you can replace it if a better one comes along). Load lets you use one of the cards in your hand as a cargo and load it onto your train where there’s capacity and the cargo type matches. Finally, Deliver lets you drop off a group of cargo to fulfill a contract or drop off a passenger to gain the benefit listed on the ticket tile.

A bit further into the game, I’m still using my starting engine and have loaded two coal onto that hopper:

isle of trains all aboard game - train loaded with cargo

Each time I loaded coal I got two cards and a bonus build action. Very handy since cards are not just the trains and cargo, but also the currency of the game. You’ll spend a lot of time scheming how to add cards to your hand!

Now that I have two coal, I can fulfill the basic contract for Alpine Lodge:

isle of trains all aboard game - alpine lodge

It’s only worth 4 points, but if I can fulfill one of the secondary contracts too, I can add an additional 8 or 10 points. That’s what I’m going to do. By delivering the two coal to Alpine Lodge, I also get to move the destination card to my own playing area. At this point I now am required to fulfill one of its secondary contracts before I can deliver a primary contract cargo to a different area, but this one’s not too onerous.

Rather a while later in the game, I now have a far more interesting train built, with lots of cargo:

isle of trains all aboard game - long train lots of cargo

I’ve upgraded my engine to a Level 2, which gives me a capacity of 6, which matches the weight of my various cars. I also have two coal, an oil, and a cargo box loaded up, which means I can fulfill the secondary Alpine Lodge contract. Nice. That’s 4+8 = 12 points earned. To denote I’ve accomplished that, I’m going to flip over the destination card, at which point you can see that there are two labeled edges:

isle of trains all aboard game - alpine lodge flipped over obverse

I fulfilled the 12 point contract (the primary plus secondary) so I’m going to spin it around and slide it under my engine, to await final scoring.

And finally, I draw my last card, further into the game:

isle of trains all aboard game - final round

Notice that two destination cards are gone from the main island map and that meeples are on the passenger tiles for Alpine Lodge, Cactus Mines, Billington’s, and Flint Beach. I never did take any of the cards from the market on a turn either. My score? Once I make the final delivery on this last round, here’s how it all stacks up:

isle of trains all aboard game - final score cards train tiles victory

That’s 8 points for the building, 6 points in tokens, 28 points in completed contracts, 4 points for the engine, and an additional 5 + 2 + 2 + 2 + 2 points for the train itself, for a total of 59 points. Not too bad! According to the rules, this places me as one point shy of being an “Engineer”. I’ll do better next time, for sure.

Note: I realize as I wrote up this review that I mistakenly had the first completed destination card showing 14 points when I actually completed the 12 point secondary contract. My bad, I should have had 57 points.

FINAL THOUGHTS AND COMMENTARY

When I first started playing Isle of Trains: All Aboard I kept looking at the train track and the connectivity from area to area on the island cards. In fact, that is just a fun graphical design but has no actual meaning in the game. Perhaps a variant could some day have you keep track of where you are and require you to move from area to area rather than be able to drop off cargo and passengers anywhere at any time, but for now, it’s a design element, not a play element.

Otherwise, I really like this game and find it a fast, engaging, and intriguing solo game that doesn’t require an enormous table and isn’t saddled with a complex setup. You can go from box to play ready in just 3-4 minutes if you keep everything organized in the box. Add more players? You can do that. You can also add more complexity to the solo game by trying to accomplish specific Scenarios. Be warned, though, they’re going to prove quite difficult!

All in all, I have a strong recommend for people who love train games – this is a fun, lighter-weight game in this genre that’s a nice filler or quickie if you don’t want to pull down one of the biggies – and a recommendation for anyone who seeks a good solo puzzle. Enjoy!

Isle of Trains: All Aboard, 1-4 players, from Dranda Games. Game design: Dan Keltner & Seth Jaffee, with solo mode by: Ayden Lowther and art by: Denis Martynets. Base game: $25. Deluxe (as played): $30. Pre-order through DrandaGames.co.uk

Disclaimer: Dranda Games sent me a free prototype of the game in return for this detailed solo review. Thanks!

dave taylor vertigo film swirl backgroundPlanet Dave is run by Dave Taylor, who has been writing about film, cars, games, and his lifestyle for many years. He's based in Boulder, Colorado and assures readers he's only occasionally falling into a gravity well or temporal distortion field.

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