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by Stuart Dagger

Early Spring 1998/Vol. 5 No. 1

3-5 players (aged 13 to adult
Playing Time: about 2 hours
Designer: Dieter Danziger
Published by Winsome Games.
Cost $40

The first point that needs to be made in a review of TransSib in this newsletter is that this is not really a train game: what it is is a gangster game that happens to be set on a train. So if you don't like gangster games, you can stop reading now.

Russia has never had the sort of government under which I'd like to live. The repressive regime of the Tsars gave way to the repressive regime of the Communists and when that collapsed the main beneficiaries of the new freedoms were the mobsters. The Trans Siberian Railway, running as it does almost the full width of a very large country, has always been a store on wheels, with goods being sold to and from the train as it went on its journey and inevitably a fair amount of this trade was blackmarket. Equally inevitably, organized crime has now moved in to control this trade. In the game each player is a godfather aiming to make money by controlling the action. Selling, stealing and bribing will be your preferred means of achieving this, but violence is available as a back-up should pay-offs fail.

The center of the board shows the route from Irkutsk to Moscow, 16 stations in all, with every third one being a major city where goods can be sold. Round the edge of the board are six ordinary carriages and a restaurant car. Each of the passenger cars is split into compartments, where the players stash their goods. These goods are vodka, food, clothes, tools, electronics and jewelry. Each player starts with two of each and so at the start you have two of your goods in each passenger car. The trouble with this is that you only have three men to look after everything and a man can only affect items in the car where he is currently situated.

The game proceeds in a series of rounds: three travelling rounds followed by a stop at a station, three more travelling rounds, another station and so on until the train reaches Moscow. At a station you can sell goods, but only from carriages where one of your men is situated. The price you get for an item depends on the station: so, for example, the price of food drops as the journey continues, but the best price for jewelry is to be had in Moscow (provided you can protect it until you get there!). On a traveling round you can perform two actions taken from a list which includes moving a man, stealing an item, attacking another gangster and claiming protection money on an item (you undertake to guard it in return for half the selling price). In addition to the limit on the number of actions per round, there is also a system of markers which stops you doing too much on the stealing and protection front and thereby prevents the game getting out of hand.

How well does it play? Opinions on that differ, as indeed they do on many games. Mike Clifford, reviewing it in Sumo, was very enthusiastic and Mike is not a man who says "great game" just to be polite; however, Mike Schloth, in a letter in the following issue of the same magazine, reported that he and Alan Moon had tried it and didn't like it at all. I come somewhere in the middle: I don't think that it is a great game, but it is one that I will happily play. It depends, I think, on how you feel about slightly aggressive games that involve picking on people. If you and your gaming friends enjoy that sort of thing, check the game out; if not then pass on it.

The game first appeared at the Essen Games Fair in October 1996 in a small print run produced by the designer. It was then picked up and republished by Winsome Games. My copy came from Essen and so I am not in a position to comment on the components in the Winsome edition.

This review is the second of two that Stuard Dagger very kindly consented to write for us. We concur with Stuart on his estimate that TRANSSIB is not truly a train game in the sense of the train games contained within and categorized by the Puffing Billy® tournament which is why TRANSSIB is not part of the PBT.


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