Trainmaker: Review

All aboard! Fairway takes a ride on the rails. The dice rails (?). In his review, he picks up a long-ago delivered Kickstarter game, Trainmaker (or is it Train maker) from Grey Gnome Games and designer Chris Leder of Roll With For It! fame.  See if he can keep his trains running on time or whether he derails.

Trainmaker is a one- to six-player, dice-rolling, press-your-luck game about building the right sorts of trains to get to fantasy locations like Wichita and Missoula.

Initial Impressions ^

  1. There are so many little games packed into this tiny box. It’s amazing.
  2. The dice are pretty awesome.
  3. The base game is easy to teach and quick to play.
  4. There are some very interesting dice-rolling mechanics in this game.

Game play ^

Before jumping in, the game comes pre-packaged with tons of minigames and official/unofficial variants. I’m going to stick to the basic game, but there’s some pretty neat ones — I personally enjoy the one where outlaws can steal your train cars.

The base game will be familiar to players of Chris Leder’s other game, Roll For It!, but with an amazing train theme and some important changes. At the start, everyone is dealt a hidden contract objective, discussed below. However, the game centers around rolling seven six-sided, train dice in order to match a train to one of a set of train stops.

Each die has two train engines, a train caboose, a yellow (box) car, a green (flat) car, and a blue (passenger) car.  On their turns, players are trying to match their die rolls to one of a series of train stops which have some combination of the train cars on them in order to fulfill that train stops’ needs.

To meet these needs, players roll the dice trying to form the proper train: at least one engine, the necessary train cars, and a red caboose. Players can roll more than one time each turn so long as they can add at least one train car to form a proper train and finish with a red caboose.  On the first roll that means they need at least one engine and one train car. On each subsequent roll, players have to be able to add at least one car or the caboose. If after any roll, they cannot, their train derails and play passes to the next player.

There is also a rule for double engines: if you can build the train with double engines and complete a contract you can go for another contract. The two engines have to be added on the first roll, though. Your subsequent trains only use the dice you used in the previous train.  So, at most, you can use the double engine rule three times, with each subsequent new train using one fewer die.

If a player has all of the train car necessary for one of the train stops, they collect the matching card and turn a new one over. Each stop card also has one of five good types. These good types are how the game ends: either when a player collects one of each, or when they meet their hidden contract objectives.

On The Green ^

This game is more fun than a train full of monkeys.

The Dice.  The dice are fantastically done. Considering they’re ordinary dice sized, each side is well-detailed but easily recognizable. When lined up properly (not like the pic at the bottom), they form a nice, organized train. The color-coding and the images are thoughtful way of assisting players.

Game is easy to teach and plays quickly.  The hardest thing about teaching the game is the train construction rules: first roll must add your engine and one car, any subsequent roll must add at least one car or caboose, and adding a caboose ends your train.  Once players have that down, they’re on board for fun.

Mini-games are terrific.  The game came packaged with several small mini-games and alternate variations by a number of other designers like Jonathan Gilmour. That was a great idea.

Where it comes up short ^

There is one concern about Trainmaker worth a mentioning: Luck. Luck drives this train. Everything from your original contracts to the stops that turn over to your dice rolls are up to the fates. Unlike Roll For It!, there’s not really any luck mitigation strategies for the core mechanism: building your train. In fact, it’s possible to roll your dice and “derail” on your first throw if you don’t roll an engine. The only play variation is too press-your-luck even more when deciding to try a double engine or to roll the dice one more time.

The luck factor hardly detracts from the game, though, since it plays so quickly.

In the hole ^

This picture is to frustrate those with OCD about making trains

Trainmaker has made the table a bunch of times in our house (or when traveling). The dice feel and look great, and the game is dead simple to teach. Trainmaker is a great fit for those that love nice dice and games like Roll For It! and for those that enjoy a good train game.

Where better to play Trainmaker than the bar.


Trainmaker is in the hole for a Par. ^

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