Friday, September 20, 2013

TransAmerica Review

  • Designed by Franz-Benno Delonge
  • Published by Rio Grande Games
  • For 2-6 players, ages 13+
  • Playtime is around 30 minutes.
Each player has 5 cities spread throughout the US.  Their goal is to be the first person to connect all 5 cities.  Players lay track on their own route but will eventually connect to other networks.

The city card shows where the
city is on the map
On your turn you place 2 points worth of track on your own network.  Most track pieces cost 1 point, but some cost 2. (crossing mountains and rivers)  Eventually you connect to other networks, and then you can place on those.  A round ends when one person has connected all 5 of their cities.  Other players lose points equal to the number of track points they would have to place to complete their route.  The game plays over multiple rounds until one person has lost 13+ points.  At that point the player with the most remaining points wins.

Starting spots for a 3 player game
There is a good deal of interaction in TransAmerica.  A big key to the game is figuring out when to connect to someone else's network.  You also have to realize that every piece of track you lay down can help someone else, so you want to be careful about the areas you open up to others.  If you add in the Vexation expansion (included in the box) then the interaction ramps up.  Vexation adds 3 tracks in each player color.  These tracks serve as exclusive use tracks for that player and really alter the flow of the game.

TransAmerica doesn't have much of a theme.  There are wooden train pieces to mark player scores and the track pieces do give you a sense of a train theme.  Essentially there's a theme there, but it's not jumping out at you.  The lack of strong theme isn't a terrible thing since the game stands on its own.

All the components in the game.
The components in TransAmerica are fairly basic.  There are plenty of track pieces, a starting marker for each player, and a score marker for each player.  There are also city cards for each city on the map, which are fairly small cards.  I normally despise small cards, but here they work fine.  I think it's because you're just holding them, there's no drawing from a deck or having to sort them, it's just 5 cards.

Learning Curve
TransAmerica takes a round to learn.  You're not really going to have a good sense of what to do the first time you play, but fortunately the game is played over several rounds.  It's one of the reasons why this is a great intro game.  Sure, one bad round can put you behind, but you're never completely out of the game.

Close-up of the score track and the trains on it.
It's an actual track.
I've played TransAmerica 16 times in person and a bunch more online.  I still enjoy the game every time I play.  I do like to add in Vexation from time to time, just to add that extra strategic layer, but I still have fun with the base game.

Why I like TransAmerica
TransAmerica is simple to teach.  The sharing of track leads to a very relaxed game state that no one takes overly seriously.  There's enough strategy for gamers, but not so much that new players don't stand a chance.  It really is a game that just about anyone can play.

Why I don't like TransAmerica
If you have a player who doesn't like to think ahead, they can really slow the game down.  In addition, if someone starts connecting to cities that aren't their own, they can really skew the game towards someone other than themselves.  There are times where you know you can't win far before the game is ever over, which can be frustrating.

A sample end of round board with the vexation expansion
I like TransAmerica.  I think it is a good game to have in a collection.  It's not the most complex of games, but that's its charm.  The game works well with 2-6 players which is nice for those big groups.  The game has flaws, there's a fair bit of luck, but it isn't meant to be a super strategic game.  It's simpler than Ticket to Ride, so if you think Ticket is too simple, don't bother with this.  I like Ticket better, but I still think TransAmerica is worth owning.

Would it be a good game for Tabletop?
I don't think it would be bad for Tabletop, but I'm not sure that it would really be good.  It's less interesting to watch than Ticket to Ride, so I probably wouldn't bother with this.

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