Isle of Trains Review


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10 January 2024
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All aboard! Isle of Trains is a small box full of big gameplay. The aim of the game is to get the most victory points by delivering cargo and passengers to the island’s several destinations, fulfilling contracts and claiming tickets. This is made possible by constructing the most enviable engine using cards from the train deck. 

Train games are basically synonymous with our hobby at this point – but if you're looking for something new in the world of trains, Isle of Trains might need to be your next purchase. 

How to Play Isle of Trains

On your turn, you can take two of four possible actions: ‘Take’ a train card or a passenger; ‘build’ a carriage or a building; ‘load’ cargo or passengers aboard your train; or ‘deliver’ cargo or passengers to a destination. The delivery of cargo to fulfil contracts is where most of the victory point value lies, but of course you won’t have any cargo to deliver without first investing in a first-class locomotive.   

Starting the game with a Level 1 Engine and minimal capacity, you expand your train by adding and upgrading your carriages. You gain rewards for loading coal onto hoppers, boxes onto boxcars, oil onto tankers and passengers onto engines and coaches, whilst a caboose provides ongoing bonuses throughout the game, depending on the actions you take. Buildings give you game-end bonuses, so whilst they feel like a bit of an easily-forgotten side-task, they’re not to be ignored if you want to maximise your scoring potential. 

Building and upgrading your train comes with a cost and there are three levels of each type of carriage. The more you’re willing to invest in your carriages, the more you get in return for loading cargo or passengers. This really is the most literal engine-building game you could find.  

So how do you buy the carriages and upgrade your train? Well, the train cards themselves are your currency. This is what gives more depth to such a compact game.  

You start with a hand of five train cards, each with a cost to build, requiring you to simply spend some as currency in order to build others. Not only this, but train cards give you victory points at the end of the game and also act as cargo too!  

Similar to the likes of Race for the Galaxy or Terraforming Mars, you’ve really got to weigh up the power of each card you have, deciding which ones you want to work towards building and which you’re willing to sacrifice as currency to reach your goals. The sheer breadth of functionality of the train deck was, at first, a bit overbearing, but soon became my favourite aspect of the game. 

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Isle of Trains Thoughts

Some engine-building games lack interaction between players, but not-so with Isle of Trains: When taking the ‘load’ action, you get extra bonuses for loading cargo or passengers onto your opponent’s trains rather than your own. There’s an incentive to build such an attractive train with enticing rewards, that your opponents can’t resist but to load cargo and passengers for you! 

As you fulfil contracts or deliver passengers, this advances the progress train, with the game ending when the train pulls into the final place on the progress track.  

I struggle to find anything to fault about Isle of Trains. There’s light-hearted strategy and enjoyable interplay, as well as strong solo scenarios if that’s your preference – all in what is essentially a beautiful set of train and island cards. The top-quality aesthetic really makes a difference. As soon the box was opened and the cards laid out, I was excited to get playing and it didn’t disappoint. 

KIM WELLENS 

SHOULD YOU PLAY ISLE OF TRAINS?

It's a Must Play.  

Top-quality and well thought-out - one I’ll definitely be coming back to.  

TRY THIS IF YOU LIKED: Race for the Galaxy 

The functionality and efficiency of the cards makes both of these titles brilliant, compact card games.  

What's on the box?

Designer: Dan Keltner & Seth Jaffee 

Publisher: Dranda Games 

Time: 60 mins

Players: 1-4 

Age: 12+

Price: £20 

What's in the box?

  • 7 Island cards 
  • 71 Train cards 
  • 6 Destination tiles 
  • 6 Ticket tiles 
  • Progress track 
  • Progress train 
  • Passenger bag 
  • 18 Passengers 
  • 4 Reference cards 
  • 24 Victory point tokens  
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