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Freight Train: A Review

by Edward Kazzimir

Winter 1995/Vol 2, no 4

Publisher: White Wind, Inc.
Designer: Alan R. Moon
Price: $39.00

Freight Train is a card game played by two to five players who meld trains by switching cars placed in freight yards. The game, packaged in a regular bookcase box, includes: 1 main freight yard, 5 players switching yards, 176 freight car cards, 35 locomotive cards, 1 trains leave card (the night card), 1 small wooden player-turn engine, 60 plastic chips (money), and 1 rule book printed in both English and German.

Let me begin by saying that this game is not "just another version" of Mayfair Games, Inc.'s Express (also a train melding game). There are several differences that make both games distinct entities. First, in Freight Train, cards are played only on the table--there are no player hands. Second, there is no team play which is an option in Express. Third, there are no disaster, caboose, or maintenance cards in Freight Card. And fourth, no passenger trains exist in Freight Train (note the title of the game!). In addition, a game of Express ends when a player reaches a certain total, but in Freight Train the game lasts three rounds or "days." The freight cars form a deck and the "trains leave" card, which signals the end of a round, is placed randomly in the bottom part of the deck in such a way that the subsequent second and third rounds will probably become progressively longer. The round ends when the "trains leave" card is turned over. Money is then awarded to players based on who owns the longest and second longest train for each type of freight. The richest player after three days is the winner.

The rules and play are short and simple. During set up, players lay out their initial locomotives (5 to 7 depending on the number of players); the main freight yard of five tracks is filled with 25 freight cards; each player lays out his switch yard and places 12 freight cars in it. During one's turn, a player may perform one of the following tasks: 1) move three cars from the freight yard into his switch yard or directly onto the locomotives to meld trains; 2) move up to four cars from his switch yard to his melded trains; 3) redistribute cars within his switch yard for the cost of $1 (pretending to switch is the only way to pass, but it still costs money); or 4) call up on additional locomotive (on days one and two only). Before taking any of these actions, a player may optionally refill one of the five sidings in the main yard using freight cards from the deck if at least two main sidings are empty. It many not always be to your advantage to refill these tracks just because they may be empty!

For each locomotive, a player makes a train composed of just one type of freight car. Each of his trains must be of a different type of freight except for one mixed train which is allowed in the rules. Freight cars left in the player's switching yard at the end of first round bring the player additional money but, by the end of the third round, cost the player money.

One interesting aspect of the game is the method in which rounds are conducted. Play for each round proceeds clockwise with the player starting the round holding the player-turn engine. When play again reaches the player holding this engine, the player does not take a turn. Instead, he passes the engine to the player to this left who then starts the next turn. Thus, a player starting a turn will play last the following turn. This aspect can be of great consequence. For example, in a game of three players (designated A,B and C) the rounds would be played like so: Turn 1) A,B,C; Turn 2) B,C,A; Turn 3) C,A,B; Turn 4) In the same order as Turn 1; and so forth (This method of play is similar to that of Santa Fe.). Here lies much of the strategy of the game. However, a player I taught the gameto and who had an instant winning knack claims the strategy is in how one manages one's switching yard, especially since the "trains leave" card can come up after you have had your turn for the last turn of the day. An optional rule is not to use the player engine and to proceed turns in a normal clockwise fashion. A game should last about an hour.

The pieces are attractive and well-done, as is White Wind's other excellent train game, Santa Fe. The cards measure a mere 2 1/2 x 1 3/4 inches in size. Each of the eleven types of cars consists of a different color, but two of the three greens used are too similar for my taste. The locomotives use a single diesel design while the main freight yard is composed of durable hardboard (17 x 12 inches). However, a glossy paper--pretty but hardly as durable as the freight yard--composes the five player switch yards. The switch yards are the only reason I cannot rate this game the highest possible score in durability.

As in its sister game, Santa Fe, Freight Train is published in a limited edition of 1200 numbered copies. The price is $39 (shipping is $6 in the USA for the first game and $1 for each additional game. In comparison to most other games, the price may seem a bit steep for the amount of product one is buying, but a fine train game of fine quality is something I always have to recommend.

Be one of 1200 lucky owners. Have fun switching!

Ratings on a scale of one (poor) to five (excellent):

Playability: * * * * *

Durability: * * * * (why not hardboard switch yards?)

Appearance: * * * * *(but watch those greens)

Value: * * * * *(put in hardboard switch yards and we could be talking five stars)

Edward Kazzimir is a train gamer from Missouri and a long-standing Train Gamers Association member who partook of the Colorado Rail Tour and RailCon `95.


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