A look at the soon to be released on Kickstarter, Ion Award winning game Yardmaster, published by Crash Games, designed by Steven Aramini, with Artwork by Dan Thompson.
Whilst at Essen in 2013, one evening back at the hotel, Patrick Nickell and myself played a train game (the name of which escapes me, it was that memorable). We both agreed, pretty quickly, that the game severely failed to deliver. If I’m honest, train games have never truly been a big pull for me, however just as book lovers are told not to judge a book by its cover, Ticket To Ride taught me not judge a game by its theme. Ever since then, it’s safe to say, I’ll try anything once.
Six months later, and I find myself in my living room, with another train game. This time, the game is one that Patrick is publishing through his company Crash Games. This is the 2014 SaltCon Ion-Award winning Yardmaster.
Yardmaster is a hand-management, set collection card game for 2-4 players, that lasts about 25 minutes. The idea of the game is to be the first player to reach a certain point goal, achieved by attaching railcars of various point values to your locomotive. Railcars can only be obtained by collecting sets of cargo, and exchanging them for the relevant railcar cards.
The components are simple enough, 96 playing cards (40 railcar cards, 52 cargo cards, 4 engine cards) and 5 tokens. Whilst the copy I received was a review copy, the quality of the cards was of a fine quality, with a linen finish. The bright colors and easily distinguishable icons mean that the game should be pretty accessible for younger gamers, and the rulebook indicates that the game is suitable for ages 8 and up.
Set up is very simple, make piles for the railcar cards, and cargo cards, give each player an engine, randomly give each player one of the Exchange rate tokens, and the first player the start player Yardmaster token. Deal 3 railcar cards to the centre of the table, then give each player a hand of three cargo cards, and that’s it, you’re ready to go.
HOW TO PLAY.
Players go around the table, and on their turn they may take any 2 actions from 3 possibilities. A player may draw a card to their hand from the cargo deck, taking one card from either the deck, or the top card from the discard pile. A player may buy one railcar from the arrival yard in the centre of the table, paying the cost of the card (equal to the point value of the card) by discarding an equal amount of the corresponding goods cards from their hand. Players may then either attach the railcard to their train providing the preceding card matches either in point value, or in color. As this may not always be possible, players can store the railcard in their Sorting Yard, and attach the railcard for free at a later time. The final action a player may take is to swap their Exchange rate token with one of the other available tokens. The exchange rate token allows a player to use two goods of a one type to act as a substitute for one type of a different good, which can be very handy if you find yourself short of a good you need to buy THAT railcar.
The start player Yardmaster token moves around the table, and allows the player holding it to take one additional action. There are also four bonus cargo cards which can also be drawn from the cargo deck (but never from the discard pile), these special cards don’t cost you an action to use, and can allow you one of the following abilities; Draw 3 cargo cards, Pay one cargo less when buying a railcar, Steal one cargo card of your choice from an opponent, Clear the Arrival Yard of all Railcars, and draw 3 new ones.
And that is basically how to play the game. Play passes from one player to the next, until one of the players has met the required point goal total.
I have played this game as both a two player game, and a three player game, with both adults, and with children.
Teaching the game is extremely straight forward. I was able to teach the game to my nine year old in less than 5 minutes. Play time was about twenty minutes. The children found the game very entertaining, and easy to pick up. When asked if they would like to play again, both did. When asked if they preferred this to Ticket To Ride, they both said they did too, however the elder one did point out that the novelty of this game may wear out have a few replays. Even then he would be willing to return at a later date, in much the same way as we do with Ticket To Ride. The younger child found it very easy to pick up too, the colored cards made the set collection/swapping easy to do, and there is a familiarity with the laying of the railcards onto the locomotive, thanks to a similar “number or color” mechanic that readily available games such as Uno provide. The one issue he did have, was with the four black cargo cards, as the only way to differentiate their use was from the text in the middle of the card. There was no distinguishable iconography which would have assisted him (even so it could be used as a reminder aid). So every time he pulled a card, he had to ask me of the power. This, to me, stops an otherwise language independent card game from being suitable for children of a much younger age, and for whom English isn’t a first language. I hope that before the final product is produced this is taken into consideration.
Another slight negative we had was not being able to easily tell how many cards an opponent had in their hand. This is because the logo design on the back of the card, when fanned in the hand, makes it look as if one card is actually two. This isn’t a big deal, but when helping to remind younger gamers that they need to discard if they have more than 7 cards in their hand, it would have been a handy to be able to see more clearly how many cards they had. Overall both kids enjoyed the game, and are looking forward to playing it again.
When playing with adults, I would suggest this game is very light for gamers, but would be suitable for non-gamer adults. The game seemed well balanced when it came to trying to max out early on big scoring cards. One issue that did arise was that one player found they quickly became stuck with no apparent way to buy any of the cards in the arrival yard, and the only way to clear the yard is with a special cargo card. We discussed ways of trying to allow this, such as providing the Yardmaster with a special “yard sweep” ability, at the cost of his extra action point. The problem here seemed to be that with three cards of value 4 out in the Arrival Yard, and a hand size of 7, using the tokens to exchange at a rate of 2:1 meant requiring exactly the correct set of 8 cards, at the exact same time, which given the random nature of a shuffled deck of cards, meant that the process was slowed down somewhat. It may have just been a bad luck draw, but that player felt particularly helpless to be able to do anything other than just draw and discard for a number of turns. The conclusion of the adult games was that Yardmaster is a fun, filler game, with not much processing required. With the right combination of cards, the game could be much quicker, but with the wrong combination, it might take longer than a game of this weight should, and there might be a “clean the yard” solution available as suggested above.
Overall this game feels like it takes the set collection (and theme) of Ticket To Ride, and combines it with the ease of play that the most basic Uno card laying mechanic has to offer. The game is generally a quick game, with the combined rules and gameplay taking under half an hour. Given the size of the game (a deck of cards, a couple of tokens, and a rule pamphlet), the game is pocket size, and so easy to throw into a backpack and take with you, I think it would be a good little game for families to take on holiday, and for more serious gamers to play as a palette cleanser between the more brain-burning games of an evening. One word of warning about the game size. Although the package is very small, the actual game can end up having a fairly large footprint, as you are constantly adding to the size of your engine.
In summation, this award winning train game, is a quick, fun palate cleanser for all ages, and one I will be happy to keep around for either when the kids want to whip out a quick game, or if I need to “clean down” after something a bit heavier.
Thanks to Patrick Nickell at Crash Games for providing me with a review copy of this game, which is currently available to back on Kickstarter.