Shinkansen: Zero Kei Review

02 April 2022
Minding the gap is the first step…

Last year’s smash hit The Red Cathedral from Isra C & Shei S was a perfect example of what happens when you restrict a Eurogame down to its most fun parts, and allow the machine you’ve created to run really hot.

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Shinkansen: Zero Kei does not achieve the heady heights of the design pair’s previous offering, but does contain something of the same core promise. The only issue is that getting to the core part of the game is like pushing through a busy train station where they’re having some maintenance done.

The 1964 Japan Olympics are just around the corner, and you and your competitors are trying to get as much of the line built as possible. Well, at least the bits that would be profitable to you anyway. Players are building a kind of tableau of train carriages in front of them, each of which has an action you can perform. Each round the players are given a numbers of actions to take for the round, including breaking ground, building tracks, building stations, adding an Olympic torch to a venue or buying another card from the discard pile. 

Before that you get to buy a card from the market, which will be added to the end of your train – which in itself will be a bit of a puzzle as you’re trying to create a run of cities and stations on the board that match those in your carriages. You’re also managing the gold, white and black tokens on the board which go to offer points in a first, second and third kind of way later in the game. You can also, if you like, use your competitor’s carriages and track resources, as long as you pay them for the privilege. The cost and points awarded for track building will change each round too – although all of the event cards are visible so you can plan ahead. I can only explain all of this as I’ve waded through one of the toughest rulebooks I’ve seen in some time.

With many moving parts, and lots of potentially delicious planning and payoff movements available, there is a game to love here. Our group commented that they ‘could get really good at this with enough time’ – which is the kind of backhanded compliment this review attempts to emulate. If this game is a satire on privatized train services, and the confusion chaos that brings, it’s absolutely hit a homerun. If not, the theme hangs a little too loose on the mechanics (why can I use the track you’ve broken ground with and placed on your train, but not change the order of my carriages?).

If you can wade through the game’s odd instructions, there is a good time waiting at the other end of the tunnel. After a few plays at least. If you’ve not got the bus instead. You would have to be more dedicated to trains than I am however.

Christopher John Eggett


A confusing rulebook and mechanics that don’t marry well to the theme make it a pain to break into and find the game. But if you can find the destination, there may be something rewarding within.

TRY THIS IF YOU LIKED The Red Cathedral…

There is no doubt that Isra C & Shei S are great designers but play this roundel-based cathedral builder instead.

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Designer: Isra C & Shei S

Publisher: Ludonova

Time: 60 minutes

Players: 1-4

Ages: 12+

Price: £29

What’s in the box?

  • Board
  • Turn order tile
  • 12 Olympic venue tiles
  • 4 used card tokens
  • 38 Engine and carriage cards
  • 18 event cards
  • Track cost counter
  • 12 Stations
  • 3 Station value counters
  • 5 Action tokens
  • 12 track tokens
  • 36 Yen coins
  • Solo mode board
  • 4 Turn order tokens
  • 4 Score counters
  • 28 Flame Cauldrons
  • 3 Solo mode closed venue tokens


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