Boardgame moments

5 Boardgames for the Train

This article is also steadily available on Zatu here!

Train journeys are the worst and I’m always foolish in my planning of any adventure. I put faith in the rail networks and expect a train journey to be a nice change from the usual drive down the motorway. I look forward to it until I set foot off of the platform and onto the carriage, and then I get that “Oh no!” moment. They can be cramped, confined, hot and problematic. Between people stealing your clearly reserved seats or obnoxiously placing bags on empty spaces, they can be the bane of any outing. Then, after you’ve wrestled the villain from out of your reserved seat, you’ll sit back, breathe easy and be bored. Then there’s the issue with accessing WiFi on a shady connection, watching a program, and inevitably running out of battery… It’s an uphill struggle that no one truly succeeds at.

Luckily, time has moved on and we have learned to engage with things outside of a mobile phone screen. We can go back to our roots and engage in one of the oldest hobbies available to us! Boardgames. Boardgames come in all shapes, sizes and varieties, which is perfect because, as you may know, space is not a train’s strong point. I have compiled a list of 5 games which I would personally choose to take on a train journey. These games are not by the only choices, nor will they always be the best, but I have tried to choose games with different styles that will appeal to the widest audience! I have also considered the risk of component loss and tried to stick to games that stay still for the most part. So let’s get on with it!

If you want a game with variety, one that will be different every time, then Fluxx is that game. Fluxx comes in many flavours and varieties so can appeal to your fandom as much as your boardgame preference. The game is an ever changing barrage of cards being played, all which make the game you play unique. It’s a hand management, take that, card game that’ll keep you on your toes and your mind off the journey!

Fluxx is a game of change, you’ll play cards to change the play occurring and impact the game massively. You start off nice and slow, draw a card and play a card. That’s about the only time it will have any consistency! The cards come in four varieties and can change the rules, change the win conditions, impact another player or the whole board, and give you items to help you win. The game can be short, but it can also be long. It’s completely sporadic! That said, there’s method throughout all the madness.

The game is one of those that gamers either love or hate. Some adore the chaos and constant need to adapt to change, others get lost in the mix and drown amongst the constant changes. It’s definitely one that’ll either captivate a non gamer or scare them off, so it’s not always top choice when introducing games. That said, on a journey where you want your focus off the travelling it’s perfect. There’s no time to think about how longs left or how boring the journey is. The only thing you’ll be able to focus on is your next play. Fluxx has a heavy emphasis on planning (ironic I know!) meaning you’ll need to know how you’ll use your cards to your advantage. Play it right and you’ll be able to manipulate the game for an easy win, but play too coyly or too abruptly and you’ll give away the win.

Fluxx for a journey will be ideal for small footprint space for some games, but any rules played need to be visible to all players so it can take up more room than desired. On top of that, the “keeper” cards that enable you to meet the win conditions are shown in front of players, so this is probably one for the table. The qualm with Fluxx? It’s inconsistency. Some games will last 30 minutes or more, some will be over in seconds. Some games are fast firing, others are slow going. It’s a mixed bag! We think Fluxx is ideal for on the go due to its variety of play and unpredictability, but again, that can spook some newbies straight off the bat! When playing with friends and family, we found that younger players get on with Fluxx best, seeming to adapt quickly to the madness, so this could easily be a top choice when travelling with children!

This one’s a no-brainer for me. Monopoly is the staple of board-gaming, but is also one of the more controversial games to ever hit the tabletop amongst hobby gamers. Monopoly Deal however is Monopoly without the drama (Monopoly dilute you could say if you were desperate to!).  It is a quick paced set collection, hand management game that is designed to last 15-20 minutes max and will struggle to go on beyond that; with only one of each property card in the game and enough action cards to trigger quick set collections, it’s unlikely to overstay it’s welcome on the table.

This isn’t a game that requires a plethora of space, which is strange for a set collection game. Most need a board to track progress, space for tonnes of cards and different draw decks. Monopoly Deal needs only space for players’ sets, a draw deck and a discard pile. As usual, with any game, you’ll probably be best with a decent surface to lean or place components on, therefore Monopoly Deal’s small footprint means it can be easily played on a fold down tray with two players. You could play this across your laps in all honesty so long as you had an arm rest for the draw deck!

We love Monopoly Deal, and have many non-hobbyist friends and family who will have a go at it too making it great for a journey with anyone. It may not be the first choice of the enthusiast, but it’s a game that will easily pass the time and will engage those you’re with enough to get them gaming! The game varies enough each time to keep you interested but is understandable enough to ensure you can reach the game quickly whilst on the go. The potential slowdown for Monopoly Deal? After about the 5th game it can be repetitive. No exaggeration on 5th though. You can play this game a fair few rounds, back to back, and it won’t get old. And then, all of a sudden, it’s one game too many. Considering that though, four games at 15 minutes a pop and you’ve burned an hour off your journey.

Roll-and-Writes are surprisingly some of the newest games around. Yahtzee was made in 1956 on a yacht, hence the odd name, making it young as far as the big staple games go. Since then, the idea of throwing dice to place symbols has skyrocketed. The interest in these games over the last years has increased further and has possibly been boosted by the number of design contests, and that’s down to how easily accessed most of these games are! As for train friendly games…. This entry isn’t as specific to the game choice, but this is an awesome category of games for any outing!

The game I’ve chosen is Railroad Ink, and there are a few reasons for this. First of all, it’s about trains. There’s no madness here and I haven’t chosen a train themed game to fit in with the train journey either. Railroad Ink is a quality roll and write because it requires you to have focus on a goal; a direction. Many Roll-and-Writes don’t require a grand amount of direction and drafted dice will generally fit onto the sheet as needed. With Railroad Ink, everyone uses the same dice, so there’s no need to be drafting dice to support your needs specifically. This means you can’t be “that guy” and draft a dice you know your opposition is eyeing up, instead you’ll be responsible for ensuring your railroad network makes sense.

The other appealing feature of Railroad Ink is the simple scoring. This is a game that you could quite easily teach someone whilst on the go, there is no worry of someone getting something completely wrong and messing everything up either as all placed die are tracked with the round number they are placed in. The final big thing with either edition of Railroad Ink is that each come with two expansions! The blue edition including rivers and lakes and the red (cooler) edition including lava and meteors, spicing play up further!

The very idea behind a roll and write is for it to be as light as physically possible. Normally you’d only ever need the game and something to write with, however all games have different footprints. They come in all sorts of varieties too; Patchwork Doodle, Welcome To…, Railroad Ink, Ganz Schön Clever, Catan Dice…. the list may very well be endless! I chose Railroad Ink as it requires only something to roll dice onto as the board and pen are handheld. The most components I have personally seen work on a train for a roll and write came with Welcome To… and Patchwork Doodle where you require cards to dictate what is drawn or where. On a train, the smaller the footprint, the more appealing the game would be for the journey. However, many train carriages do have small tables for placing such things on. Should you wish, you could even push it to have a component heavy roll and write out. Or take it one step further and have SteamRollers out to go whole hog on the intentional train theme. Trainception.

The amount of fun is entirely dependent on your flavour preference. Whether you’re a fan of developing a town in Welcome To…, playing Catan in a unique dice driven way in Catan Dice, selling your goods under the Corinthian sun in Corinth, there’s something for everybody! For me, it’s all about something with a set goal in mind. I’m all for making stuff fit or look colourful, but I like an outlined goal from the outset… The problem with any roll-and-write? Generally speaking, it’s finite. Many games have onetime use components such as writing paper, meaning the game will eventually be unplayable. That said, I’ve never met anyone who’s burned through the wedge of paper you get with these games. Plus, people are smarter than that, surprisingly, and often go as far as to laminate some sheets for longevity. The problem for Railroad Ink on a train? I genuinely can’t think of any (but maybe the themes a bit close to the bone!).

“Unicorns? Bah! How childish!” I hear you say. Well, more fool you. Unstable Unicorns is a take-that, first past the post game that I often take with me whilst on the go. It’s a game where you need to be aware of everyone and the unicorns they have control of, but know who you’re going to upset next, too!

The game is very whimsical and appeals to a younger audience immediately with its cartoony artwork and vibrant colour palette. However, the game’s true beauty lies in its gameplay and how it handles. It’s a take that without player elimination, meaning you’re not done until the game’s done. The game was Kickstarted and hit 18000% of it’s funding goal, and the developers put their hearts and souls into the game. This is shown through the fact that every unicorn card is unique, adding more quirkiness. The box for the game is very compact and  the only component is a card deck so there’s less risk of losing components if things are knocked!

The game requires some space. That’s a given straight away. Luckily, a small table or pull down trays would suffice (however the table is the best option). There needs to be space for each player’s stable (composed of unicorn cards), a draw pile and a discard pile. It doesn’t sound much, but the goal is to have 7 unicorns of any flavour in your stable to win so might struggle on smaller surfaces. The compromise for the need for space is that the game is going to make your journey feel much shorter. You’ll get wrapped up in the tactics of it all and be desperate for the next big play.

The take-that element of the game will force you to choose your battles. Do you upset someone and prevent a win or become the target of revenge? It doesn’t require an awful lot of talking, which on journeys at night can be beneficial, and it’ll keep you engaged to the point you’ll forget you’re on a train at all… Just don’t miss your stop! The thing to be conscious of here? As mentioned.. Space. There can be limited space available when on a train and that can make the game unplayable. You’ll need to be the lucky souls with the table or a row of seats to best play this one. Although less players will need less space, so you could sneak a 2 or 3 player game into a two seater if you tried!

How can you best pass time on a boring train journey? Do so under someone else’s persona! Coup is a game of social deduction where you’ll need to lie through your teeth to get through to the end and take out the competition. It’s a classic choice for us when we need a quick game we can play multiple times in a row without it getting dry!

Coup is one of those games you’ll play, then play again, then play again. It doesn’t wear thin as it’s entirely down to human interaction. You need to establish who is who so you can easily ruin their day without their counter attack. This is easier said than done, as when you get going you’ll realise everyone is the Duke and the Captain, and then the Contessa. It will depend on what’s convenient at the time. Call someone’s bluff and take them out, or stack 10 cash  and pay for a coup against someone!

This game requires very little space at all. So long as you can hold your cards and your cash, you’ll be fine! The entire game is run through discussion and interrogation of other players so there’s no need to have every component in mind at once. Also, the game being run mostly socially means that you’ll pass time quickly and have more to talk about between games! It only requires you to have a deck of cards, two cards per person at any one time, and tokens in arm’s reach. Because you can only ever hold 10 tokens (which are forcibly spent), you won’t be fumbling around and could  play this game across a row of seats should you be unable to claim the coveted carriage table.

This game is incredibly fun and funny! There are no end of bloopers amongst players thinking they’re ahead only to reveal they never had a clue. There’s also the heavy emphasis on “bending the truth” and lying about who you are. You’ll always have that moment where everyone is the Duke, but everyone is also the Captain… And you’re also the Assassin when convenient. The downside to this one? You need a few players. It’s not as fun with 2 players, though it can be played as such. Also it’s a game of elimination so play badly and you’re out. The game is eventually forced to end but watching everyone else lie can easily be just as fun!

You need to forget about the train journey whilst travelling. Distraction is the easiest escape from watching the clock and these boardgames allow for the best use of your time whilst allowing you to socialise, compete and actually enjoy your journey. There’s no escaping the train sometimes, so it’s best to make the most of what you can. For those speedy journeys, go Monopoly Deal, Coup or Fluxx. Anything longer might require Unstable Unicorns, Railroad Ink or another roll-and-write. Of course, these aren’t the only games available, just the one’s I’d personally choose. So next time you need the good old rail service, grab a game to stick in your bag and feel at ease that you might get to enjoy the trip… Just don’t miss your stop!