I don’t want to derail this review of Village Rails with an introduction of railway-related puns and play on words. I think that would send this review down the wrong track. I’ve got to let off steam however, because I have a one-track mind. My tunnel-vision sees me chugging along in the hope of express-ing my thoughts and opinions. Will Village Rails make the grade? Find out in this review with all the bells and whistles, started in a way, that I’m sure you’ll agree, is just the ticket!
Randomly allocate each player one of the lettered tiles. I tend to hold these like short straws and let people pick. The person who claims letter A (or the closest to letter A will start). Give them the other corresponding pieces to form the border of each player’s individual array. Also give each player £5, a scoring dial set to zero and a reference card.
Shuffle the deck of double-sided cards. Place a market of seven cards track side up and four trip side up cards. Finally shuffle the terminus cards and deal three to each player which will remain secret for now.
Throughout the game you will be completing a 3 x 4 grid of tracks within your border pieces. Scoring each completed track as they get finished. Adding trips to lines to boost your points and finishing a route with a terminus card to gain additional money. The player with the most points at the end wins the game.
On your turn you must place one track card. The market for these works similarly to Century or Small World. The first card is free, and then to skip along the market to a different card you have to pay a coin on every card you pass. When placing your choice of card, it must be adjoined orthogonally to your border or another card.
On your turn, you can also optionally buy a single trip card and add it to one of your incomplete train lines. These have a base cost of three pounds and cost you one more for every one skipped. Each line can have a maximum of two bonus cards assigned to it.
Additionally. all the cards have scoring opportunities on them which you utilise when building your lines. Barns and Farms score depending on terrain types, Halts score the indicated points and Signals are dependent on having lots of signals on the line. Purple sidings provide end game scoring.
The omission of a solo mode feels like an oversight. It seems like it would be easy to include and the puzzle would still be enjoyable when playing on your own. Perhaps like Akropolis recently, an official solo mode will be made available on BGG. Let’s hope so!
What it’s like
Considering throughout the game you will only place 12 track cards, there is a surprising amount of strategy and thinking to be done.
Generally when playing games I assess options but don’t mathematically explore all possibilities before making every decision. As I play quite intuitively, I rarely suffer from analysis paralysis and often have my next turned planned before rounds come back to me. The exception to this is Noctiluca and Village Rails. These two games don’t just burn my brain they create an inferno between my ears!
Village Rails is a puzzle through and through. Your tableau will never be perfect when finished, but the puzzle of making the best of what you’ve got is fantastic! Working out which card you can afford, balancing this with the scoring opportunities that each track is working towards, while placing the Trip cards on the right places AND making sure tracks generate as much money as possible, is apparently too much for my brain to compute! But oh my, do I enjoy pushing those grey cells hard to try!
That’s not to say every turn hurts your head, far from it, sometimes the perfect cards is sitting there ready to be taken. As the game goes on it all becomes a bit more restrictive and that is when the decision making comes into its own.
I have always wanted to play Village Green, a title from the same publisher that feels part of the same family, but as I haven’t had the opportunity yet, that makes comparisons impossible for me to make.
In terms of player count, I really enjoy it at two, but at three it was more interesting, and actually I welcomed the little bit of downtime to get the cogs whirring. At four, it is a bit slower and as cards change more there is a bit more downtime. That’s okay sometimes, but it will depend how prone to analysis paralysis the other players are.
There is nothing overly complex that the rulebook needs to cover. I had some confusion over how barns and territories were scored on my first game, but these got ironed out pretty quickly. The rulebook is good, but light and a few additional clarifications on occasions would be welcome.
The cards came wrapped in paper bands, rather than single use plastic which was good. They are a small size but that works okay. If these were a little bit bigger it would’ve been nice as it would enable symbols to be a bit clearer for all. The positive to these smaller cards is that it makes it much more adaptable to being played on your travels. Overall the artwork is retro twee, but in a perfect way. There is also a bountiful amount of cards in the box to ensure games are always different.
My borders are a bit clunky to fit together, almost as if they have been cut wrong, makes me nervous, but they push together in the end. The coins are good. The scoring markers are quite tricky to turn, which is great as they don’t knock easily leaving you wondering what score you were on, but if they were metal you would apply a bit of WD-40 to make them just a little bit smoother. There is also a little bit of air in the small box, but not as bad an offender as some.
Generally it feels like a more affordable production, and that’s because it is! It has an RRP of £20, which feels like a great price point. None of the very minor points about components above take away from the overall gameplay, which ultimately, is what matters. I quite like that it hasn’t been overproduced with an over the top price tag to match. The game is what shines here.
Final thoughts on Village Rails
There is so much to enjoy in this small box. A puzzle that I get so invested in it, it burns my brain, and everyone else’s that I have played it with. There is oodles of game inside this smaller size box and, in its weight and class, it’s superb.
I like the overall vintage presentation. It works well to set the scene of times gone by. The number of different cards ensures strategies have to be adapted and mixed up from game to game.
This game has hints of so many games I love at the moment. It includes sprinkles of titles like Sprawlopolis, Ecosystem, Cascadia, Century and Next Station London, but concocts a unique game from all these individual influences and more.
I was surprised by how crunchy Village Rails was in a good way. My love for it has grown with every play and I feel like it still has more to give. So, if this condensed heavyweight puzzle sounds like it is your sort of thing, even a little bit, I urge you to try it out and fall in love with it for yourself.
Number of players: 2 to 4
Board Game Review Recommended Age: 12+
Publisher’s Recommended Age: 14+
Playing Time: 45 minutes
Setting Up and Take Down Time: 1 minute
Designers: Mathew Dunstan and Brett J. Gilbert
Publisher: Osprey Games
The box art suggests a delightful gaming experience, which it is: delightfully thinky and puzzly. Two great designers and a quality publisher suggests this was always going to be a good game. It turns out Village Rails is first class!
Artwork and Components
Value for Money
- Crunchy puzzle
- Can be replayed regularly
- Great game to take on travels
- Good at two and three players
- The size of the cards
- Can cause analysis paralysis
- Difficult to fully plan ahead until your turn
- No solo mode
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