Reviewed by Herb Levy
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Some topics command more than their fair share of attention when it comes to trains. One of those topics is, without question, trains. Russian Railroads (featured in the Spring 2014 Gamers Alliance Report), for example, used trains as a springboard for an excellent worker placement game. Now, Helmut Ohley, one of the co-designers of Russian Railroads, revisits the train theme with a much simpler card game: Trambahn.
Trambahn means “tramway” in English and the goal for each player in this 2 player game is to expand their tram lines in 19th century Munich and collect passengers. Trambahn uses cards to simulate this. There are 16 “Tramway” cards and a deck of 112 “Station” cards (plus 8 “Conductor” cards) which serve as the game’s “engine”. There are also four Terminal Station cards (in blue, red, green and yellow) which are the “starting points” for collecting passengers.
The Station Cards (plus Conductor) cards are shuffled together to create the game’s draw deck. Each card has three possible uses. It can be played as a “station” of a specific color (in which case, it must be linked to a tramway card.) Or, it may be played as a passenger in which case the card is played next to the matching color Terminal card. Or, it can be used as money since ALL of these cards have a value of 1000 marks when used on its “flip” side.
The first player receives 12 cards which remain face down and act as a 12000 marks bankroll for that player. The second player receives 15 cards (a bankroll of 15000 marks) to compensate for going second. Then, each player is dealt a hand of six cards.
On a turn, a player MUST play 1 or 2 passengers onto the Terminals. Cards may be of different colors but must be played on the color matching row. When four passengers are placed on a row, that row will be score. (More on that later.)
With passengers placed, players may now play as many cards as they like onto their Terminals. Cards placed on Terminals must be placed in ascending order (numbers may be skipped) and you can’t go back to fill in any gaps. Multiple columns of the same color may be started if you find yourselves with otherwise unplayable cards. Conductor cards are “wild” and may be used as any color and/or any number. (Exception: Conductors may not be added to a column with a 10. Columns with a 10 are considered “closed”.) Conductors may also be used as passengers if so desired. Cards in the four suits run from 1 to 10 (with three of every value except there are only two in each suit for the 1 and 10) and are worth 1 to 3 Victory Points when scoring. You can also discard cards from your hand to your “bank” pile. These cards remain face down and increase your funds, each card being worth 1000 marks. You can also purchase a Tramway card.
The 16 Tramway cards of the game represent Horse Trains (5 of those), Steam Trains (4 of those) and Electric Trains (seven of those). More importantly, though, these trains act as multipliers (2x, 3x, and 4x respectively) when scoring. These trains are placed in a stack (with the Electric Trains on the bottom, Steam in the middle and Horse Trains on top) with three cards drawn and available. (This little piece of information, while present in the German rules, went missing with the English language rules. Now you know.) A player may purchase one or more available trains by handing in cards from his bank equal to the sale price of the train(s). Once purchased, a train MUST be assigned to a line of passenger cards. (Once placed, a train may NOT be moved. Any cards without a train are discarded.) Bought trains are replenished from the train deck once a player’s turn is over.
With all actions taken, a player draws cards to fill his hand back to six. When the draw pile is empty, players discard half of their bank (rounded down), cards are shuffled and a new draw pile created. The game continues until there have been 10 tours scored. Now let’s talk about scoring.
When a fourth passenger is added to ANY of the four Terminal rows, a scoring (aka a “tour”) occurs. Players add the Victory Point values of ALL the cards they have in rows of that color multiplied by the value of the linked train(s). That resulting value is the value of that tour. While the passengers that triggered the scoring are discarded, the columns are NOT. They remain in play and more cards may be added to them. There can also be “Extra Tours”.
When a column has amassed eight cards (and this can include Conductor cards), that column scores on its own at once. The score is entered in the “Extra Tours” section of the score sheet. Each column can only be scored as an Extra Tour once. After the tenth REGULAR scoring, the game immediately ends and players add up the points they earned for all of the regular tours AND any Extra Tours they may have. High score wins! (Tie? Then the player with the most remaining money gets the edge.)
Trains serve as the theme in the game but the relationship between trains and card play in Trambahn is purely coincidental. The game could be about almost anything. But that does not detract from the enjoyment. The idea that each card has multiple uses is a device I’ve always liked as it provides a built-in series of choices for players. Trambahn is reminiscent of Reiner Knizia’s Lost Cities (featured in the Spring 2015 GA Report) in its use of card runs and multipliers but it adds a little something extra with Extra Tours scoring.
Although not worth Victory Points on their own, Conductors more than make up for it by being extremely valuable in at least two ways. First, Conductors grant players flexibility in placing passengers so they can have more control over the timing of Tour scoring by forcing a certain color line to be scored. This is particularly important if your opponent has few or no cards of that color available to be scored. Second, and perhaps more importantly, Conductors allow you to pad your line, helping to reach an 8 card size easier then just hoping you’ll draw the needed numbers in the right color. Those eight card lines, triggering those Extra Tours and garnering extra points, can often be the difference between a win and a loss.
Like the trains it displays on its cards, Trambahn is fast moving. Fans of quick card play will find this one an excellent way to spend a lunch hour break or close an evening of game play. All aboard! – – – Herb Levy
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