GAME REVIEW: Train Heist

I backed this one on kickstarter earlier this year (or was it late last year, I can’t remember).  I received my copy a few weeks ago, and finally got to play it last weekend.  This just became available to the public on October 30th at Amazon.

Train Heist can be played as either a Co-operative game or a versus game.  I have only played the Co-op game, so my review is based on that.  It can be played 2-4 players.  The box says it takes up 45-60 min. to play and I would say that sounds accurate.  The age range is 8 and up, but I think some 8 year olds may struggle with some rules.  Maybe 9 and up?  I say 9 because my nephew is 9 and he understood it pretty well when we played it.

In Train Heist, the players take on roles of bandits working together to rob a train, collecting a certain number of loot tokens and delivering them to towns before the timer runs out.

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Before I explain what you do on your turn, let me tell you a little bit about the board and some concepts of the game first.

Each player starts with their bandit meeple in the middle of the board.  Depending on the number of players, 1-3 horse meeples will be joining the bandits.  The train track surrounds the players, and the train (which is five separate pieces) starts in a certain designated spot.  It will be moving at the end of every round, and that is determined by the speed dial at the bottom left hand corner of the board, which begins at the number 2.  The other dial, next to the train speed dial, is the Train Heist meter.  It keeps track how much loot you have delivered to different towns.  Depending on which difficulty you choose, the meter must reach 10,15, or 20.

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The top part of the board is used when a player enters the train.  The Sheriff is placed in his starting position, and will move back and forth throughout the train during the game.  If at any point the sheriff lands in your space (or vice/versa), you must go to the jail car in the front of the train.  There you’ll have to spend your next turn(s) trying to get out (which I’ll explain in a bit).

Also, 2 random loot tokens are place in the six empty spots on the train.  There’s also a spot where event cards are placed.  One will be drawn every time the train passes over a Sheriff badge symbol on the track.

Finally, each player gets 5 poker cards to start the game.  These cards have different numbered suits, but instead of the regular suits (spades, hearts, etc.), the symbols are guns, money bags, things like that.

Now we’re ready to play the game!

On your turn you can do up to 4 Heist Actions (you may do any action multiple times) Here are the different actions you can choose from:

  1. Move – This means moving your cowboy meeple one spot (which you may use any number of your actions to do multiple times).  This includes boarding and unboarding the train.  Once you board the train, you place your meeple on the train on the upper part of the board, in the spot that you entered.
  2. Loot Train – When you’re in a spot on the train that contains a loot, you may discard the appropriate cards in your hand to pick up a loot.  For example, a loot may have 2 bag symbols and one gun symbol.  That means you have to give up three cards.  2 cards with bag symbols and one with a gun symbol.  There may also be loot tokens that say they need specific numbers or straights, etc.  Once you take a loot, you place it in front of yourself.  If you have the correct cards, you may take 2 loot from the same spot, doubling up on symbols/numbers.
  3. Drop off loot at a town – This is the main way to win the game.  Dropping off loot to a town will raise the Train Heist Meter by one, getting you closer to your victory goal.  To do this, you simply enter a town, and then spend an action to discard your loot.  You then draw a new loot token from the bag and place it on the town spot, then put your discarded token back in the draw bag.  This action is also crucial because anytime a train enters a town and there is no loot tokens there, the token on the hangman’s noose on the right side of the board goes down a notch.  If it reaches the bottom, everyone loses.  So it’s important to keep the three towns full of loot.
  4. Flip a train track switch – At the beginning of the game, you will set up 2 train track switches.  One is colored red, the other is green.  If you wish, you may flip one of these tokens if you occupy the spot.  This will change where the train will go, which could be vital if you don’t want the train to go to a certain town just yet (like if it has no loot).
  5. Discard a poker card to move the horse that number of spaces – This is good, because sometimes you want to move several spots to get to the train, but it may be too far away to get there in one turn.  So if you played a poker card (let’s say it has a number 10 on it), you move the horse to your spot, mount it for a free action, then complete the remainder of your movements.  Mounting and dismounting is always a free action.
  6. Trade of give poker cards to a player in the same spot – This allows you to help each other out to get the right card combinations in order for you to collect loot.
  7. Grab a bullet token – A bullet token allows you to spend it on a subsequent turn for an extra action.  In other words, if you don’t have anything else to do during your turn, then take a bullet which will allow you to do more actions on your next turn.

Once you do all of your 4 Heist Actions, you move the train according to the speed meter.  If it ever lands or passes a Sheriff Badge symbol, then you draw an event card.  Event cards can be anything from moving the sheriff whichever direction on the train, switching a train track, or speeding up the train.  If it enters or passes a town, you must take the loot from the town spot and put it in its corresponding spot (train cars and towns both have letters on them).  Then fill any empty spots with loot cards from the draw bag.

Then the player can discard any amount of cards in his/her hand, then draw back up to 5 cards.

That’s how a player’s turn goes:

  • Players perform 4 Heist Actions
  • Move the Train according to the speed meter
  • Discard any amount of cards
  • Draw back up to 5 cards

And as a free action, you can use card abilities by playing certain combinations (which are listed on the board) to do things like get extra actions or flip the track token.

Also, if you ever get captured by the sheriff.  You must spend your actions during your turn drawing cards until you get 3 keyhole cards.  This allows you to escape.

In clockwise order, each player takes their turn until they either reach their pre-set goal of delivered loot, in which case they win.  Or, if the hangman’s track reaches the bottom OR if the event deck runs out, the player’s lose.

Whew!  That sure was a mouthful.  Even though there are a lot of little details to remember, it’s at heart a simple game.  But it’s not the easiest one to explain to people.  The Rulebook was a little tough for me to get through if I’m being honest.  It even says that you should play through the game by yourself before teaching it to other players, which is something I usually do anyway, but I’ve just never seen it actually recommended in the rulebook.  So it took me a while to figure it out, but once I did I was like, “Oh! That’s easy”.

Now, when I was doing my solo runthough, I’m not going to lie to you.  I really wasn’t enjoying it.  I thought it was too simple, and kind of repetitive.  But I wasn’t going to pass judgement on it until I played a full “real game” of it with more players.

I played it a few days later with my 9-year-old nephew.  My experience was much different.  This time, we really felt the pressure of the train speeding from town to town, and us racing to collect loot tokens and delivering them before the train got to the town.  And then when the track switches, and you have to go to another town instead of the one you planned on….. Whew!  It surprisingly got intense.

Also, the main thing that was missing when I was doing my solo run-through was the player interaction.  It is crucial that you communicate with each other and plan on what you’re going to do.  Trading cards is also a very important thing in this game.  After a few turns, I really felt the game had a great rhythm going and ended up having a pretty good time.  My nephew really enjoyed it.  We did end up losing, but we had fun doing it.

The game board is pretty neat looking.  I love how it has 2 sections.  One where you’re trying to catch the train and board it, and the other is the actual train that you move around in, trying to get loot.  Another thing that really impressed me was the 2 dials on the bottom right hand corner.  The speed dial and the Train Heist meter.  Magnets are built into the board so you can place the magnetic arrows on the dials.  That’s so cool  I wish more games did that.  I know of a few that could actually use them (I’m looking at you Pressure Cooker!).  And one more thing I wish more games did: Listing all of the your possible actions on the actual board so you don’t have to keep looking in the rulebook.  That’s cool!  Bigger companies should take note of this.

The components are pretty good.  At first, I thought the cowboy meeples looked kind of silly with their widespread legs, but that’s so they can fit on the horses, so it’s necessary.  The train pieces are O.K.  It serves the game well, but they could have been made a little prettier maybe.  All the other components are fine and very functional.

I don’t know how fun a Medium or Hard game would be.  I think if you had to get 30 loot tokens it might take WAY too long, and for what this game is, the shorter the better.  A short game I think is all what you need to do here.  Maybe Medium for a 4 player game, but no more than that I think.  I also think that the game may have one too many things going on in it.  I’m not sure if the Cherokee tokens are necessary.  They didn’t really add anything to the game I thought.

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So I was a little worried when I was learning it, but it ended up being a fun little co-op game. The player interaction is what really makes this game work, and the mechanic of the moving train really keeps the tension up.  If you’re looking for a fairly light co-op game to play with the family, or with a casual gaming group, check it out.  It has a bit of a learning curve due to all the little details, but at heart, this is a family weight style game.  The theme is fun, and the gameplay keeps things moving along at a brisk pace.  I’m glad I backed this one!

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