So if I explain to you how the night went, then maybe it will give you some understanding as to why the initial impressions of Village Rails were maybe skewed in a certain direction. The game night started with a groups introduction to Akropolis, which went down sweeter than a syrup covered jellyfish. Followed by the surprisingly simple but analysis paralysis inducing The King is Dead. In the case of both of these, at least one of us already knew how to play the game and were able to guide everyone else. When it came to Village Rails, we were approaching the end of the night, it was a new game to learn and even though we were in the ‘game zone’ we found our first experience to be a slightly bitty and a tiny bit overwhelming.
To be clear I’m not trying to be critical here, Village Rails is a deceitful little bugger. It arrives in a cute little box with a deck of cards, some cardboard markers and a twelve page teeny tiny rulebook. The rulebook is filled with diagrams and examples and gives you a great indication of how things can work. There’s a huge difference between how the game says it plays to how it can actually play out. It needs a warning in the rulebook, if not on the box itself that contained within, that Village Rails is something of a rather large point salad.
A couple of days later, I’m back to the table and the set up is the same. A single pile of double sided cards with Tracks on one side and Trips on the other. A set of seven track cards lay beneath the pile, with four trip cards lying next to them for all to chose from. Terminus cards that deliver revenue to buy new cards. The upside down letter L frame in which the grid of three by four cards is slowly laid out to create your railway network. The frame has different types of terrain on the edges, and sometimes features that you’ll use to score. Scores are kept noted on a dial tracker, which on checking has a chance to go over one hundreds points.
On your turn you’ll need to lay some track, by picking the free bottom card in the row, or paying by money by leaving pound coins on the cards you’re jumping over in order to pick the one you want. If you pick a card that already has coins on it, you get to pick up the coins as well as the chosen card. More importantly you’ll have the chance to purchase an all important trip card which you can place at an end of the one of the edges and score later once the track is completed. You can place up to two trip cards per track in order to boost your scoring chances.
On track completion you’ll then be able to score the features on the track, taking into account the different terrains, the bonuses the different features give you and then the points the Trips contribute to the score. You’re also able to trade in Terminus cards to give additional money to spend on new tracks and cards. You’ll be up to your eyes in terminus cards, which is no bad thing as the scoring for each of them differs depending on how the track was formed and what is on the line. When I first read that rule I thought it was a mistake that you collected a terminus card on every turn, but after a few rounds the choice made a lot of sense.
There’s a reasonable amount to keep an eye on here. Trips are often a future gamble, trying to make sure you can fulfil the criteria while also trying to maximise the scoring for the full line that you’ve completed. I found that you needed to make sure you were not forgetting to score all the features on the line, especially if the card you laid completed more that one line at time. If you’re combining lines, trips, signals and halts, the points will climb very quickly. Make sure you keep an eye on the borders themselves, as sometimes they’ll have features to score as well as a terrain. Unfortunately I often found that could be overlooked and lead to frustration when the trip I thought I scored was ruined by a different terrain on the border.
Once you get into the swing of things, you’re going to have to balance the income coming in to buy more cards with the placing of cards in order to score them and give you more money to buy cards that then allow you to score what appears on the line alongside the trip you are trying to score at the same time and then apply the correct terminus card in order to give you income to buy the trip cards and track cards that aren’t the free ones so you can place them to give you a chance to score more points and also score on the completed lines so you can apply the terminus cards that will allow you to collect and oh my days my brain has just melted.
Village Rails may come in a small box, but don’t be tricked into thinking that this is an aperitif or a small end of games night snack. The first few of the twelve turns you’ll take in the game will probably take minutes to lay your track and trip cards. As the game progresses and you’re trying to maximise the scoring potential, it’s not unusual for your brain to start working overtime as your track placing choice is reduced and you’re trying to squeeze out every last point. That one hundred point level on the score marker suddenly makes a whole lot of sense.
Village Rails looks the part, with clear iconography and charming illustrations on the terrain, they’ve done a great job of fitting the theme in with the mechanics. There’s something rather neat about seeing you build a railway line as you place down your cards in the tableau your creating and there’s been a really effort to give it some country charm on the table. Think of it like a cheese a pickle sandwich. It gives some great country-like flavour and there’s a decent amount of crunch for those willing to give it a good bite. Choo Choo!!
You can find out more about Village Rails by visiting https://ospreypublishing.com/village-rails
Designed – Matthew Dunstan & Brett J Gilbert
Art – Joanna Rosa
This review is based on the final retail version of the game provided to us by Osprey Games. We were not paid for this review. We give a general overview of the gameplay and so not all of the mechanical aspects of the game may be mentioned.