Crash Games was back at Essen this year with a number of full board games and two new small card games. Patrick was gracious enough to give me copies of the card games to try – and I’ve been able to get them to the table a few times so far this fall. They have similar names and share similar art, but they have different designers and certainly feel different. I’ll be honest with you that I kind of expected Yardmaster Express to be some sort of dice version of Yardmaster (following the “Express” trend of a few years back) – but that is not the case!
[Note: Normally, I prefer to play a game at least three times prior to writing it for the blog. However, given the time pressure coming up to SPIEL ’14, I have written up my thoughts on a number of games based on only one or two plays in order to cover as many new games as possible prior to the show. I fully admit that it is often not possible to see the full breadth of a design in a single play, and thus I shall not give a rating to any game at this stage with such a few number of plays…]
- Designer: Steven Aramini
- Players: 2-5
- Ages: 13+
- Time: 20 minutes
In this beautifully produced game, players try to collect cargo cards in the right combinations to fill railcars (and thus score VPs). Each player starts the game with an Engine card in front of him. Each player also gets a randomly dealt Exchange token to start the game with their hand of 5 Cargo cards. The tableau of Railcar cards is created with 4 cards placed face up on the table. A start player is randomly chosen and the player to the right (last in initial turn order) gets the Yardmaster token.
On a turn, you can take 2 actions from three possible choices. You can even repeat the same action twice.
1 – Draw a cargo card. Either take the top of the draw pile or take the top of the discard pile (just like Gin Rummy)
2 – Collect a Railcar from the table – if you have an appropriate number of rail cards (1 to 4) in the matching color, you can collect the rail card from the table. Discard those cards from your hand and take the Railcar. If you can play it to your train, do so immediately. You may add it to your train if it matches the number of color of the currently on the end of the train. If you cannot add it now, you place it off to the side in your Sorting Yard. At any point later in the game, if you are able to legally add a Railcar from your Sorting Yard, you do so as a free action. The first card you pick up automatically attaches to the engine; all other cards have to match either the color or number of the last card on the train. Draw a new card from the deck to refill the tableau to 4.
3 – Switch Exchange Rate tokens – You can use your Exchange Rate token at any time to use 2 cards of the color matching your token for a card of any other color.
Free action – at any time on your turn, you can play any Bonus cards that you may have drawn. There are 10 bonus cards in the cargo card deck, and if you draw them, you can take advantage of their special ability: draw 2 cargo cards, pay one less for a railcar, take any card from the discard pile, take an additional action, exchange 1:1 this turn with your exchange token.
One other rule here – if you are the Yardmaster, you get to take 3 actions on your turn. After you take your turn, you pass the Yardmaster token to the right (though play continues to the left).
The game continues until someone has achieved the victory point target (18 pts for 2p/3p or 16 pts for 4p/5p). Only cars that are connected to your engine score points though – any railcars in your Sorting Yard aren’t worth anything!
My thoughts on the game
This is a cute little filler game, and it’s done well here with the non-gamers in the neighborhood and with the schoolkids that stop by occasionally. The turns move super quick as you are usually either drawing cards in rapid succession.
There is no hand limit in the game, so it’s up to the player whether they’d rather collect all the railcars they can as quickly as possible or hold the cargo cards in their hand until they can take cargo cars they can immediately attach to their train. Since cars in the Sorting Yard do not score VPs, you could end up, at the end of the game, having spent cargo to get a Railcar that never scored VPs for you!
There’s not a lot of scoring in the game and there isn’t a lot to differentiate play. For the most part, the number of cards that you play to collect a Railcar equals the VP value of that card. So, you’re better off trying to play the right color card for the Railcar each time – even better if you’ve been lucky enough to draw the “1 card discount” bonus card because that’s essentially a free VP. If you use your exchange rate token, you’re then spending 2 cards for each of those VP – so it better be worth the trade.
But, even if you’re able to draw the right cards, you have to be able to use the Railcars that you collect or else you won’t score any points. This is the main place where you can control your destiny in the game – trying to decide whether or not you should collect a Railcar that cannot immediately use. Also, if you are able to collect higher numbered cars, you will spend slightly fewer actions per VP as it takes a whole action to collect a card – whether it be 1 VP or 4 VP.
Otherwise, the only other way to separate yourself from the pack is to be lucky to draw more bonus cards than your opponents because 4 of the 5 varieties essentially give you an extra action/VP/card, and that’s really the only thing here mechanically to differentiate your play.
The other question I have – though I will admit that I do not have enough data to support an argument either way yet – is whether or not there is correct compensation for going later in initial turn order. The game ends immediately when a player hits the target VP total, so those players earlier in turn order will always have a slight advantage as they will have more turns on average to reach the target score. This is supposed to be offset by the fact that the last player in turn order starts as Yardmaster (and thus gets an extra action or half-turn), and this rotates backwards through the game.
The game is meant to be a quick and light card game, and though it has a few foibles, they are fine for a 15-20 minute game. Additionally, when playing with casual gamers – which this game is seemingly targeted to – those folks probably won’t notice!
The quality of components is well done – the cards are sturdy with a nice linen finish. The artwork is beautifully done minimalistic outline art which I really love. The sets at Essen came with some bonus wooden pieces that replace the cardboard Exchange tokens. While this doesn’t do anything for gameplay, they are pleasing to hold and pass around the table.
- Designer: David Short
- Players: 2-5
- Ages: 13+
- Time: 10 minutes
Yardmaster Express is a similar in theme to Yardmaster – though designed by a different designer. This smaller cousin still wants you to match colors and numbers as you build your train, but in this game, the color combinations are found on the cards themselves.
The game is played with a 32 card deck, each of which is split into two sections, each with a color and a number. In a 4p game, the game sstarts with a hand of 4 cards. The active player takes this hand of cards. On a turn, you draw a card from the deck and then play a card from the hand to your train. Once you have done this, you pass the hand of 4 cards to the next player clockwise. Like in Yardmaster, cards can only be legally played if the color or number matches the rearmost on found on your train. The backside of each card is a wild gray 2-2 which can be played at any time (and which matches anything).
The game is unbelievably quick (as is this review) – in a 4p game, it only goes for 5 rounds. Therefore, your train at the end of this game will only be 5 cards (10 sections) large. At the end of the game, you simply tally up the number on all of your cargo sections. To this, you add a bonus score of one point for each of the sections in your single longest uninterrupted chain of a single color
The game is quick, almost too quick! We’ve had some 3p games clock in at about 5 minutes… For a mini-filler, it’s good fun, and the cards can easily fit in a pocket or purse to be brought out when you have the smallest possible window of time and space to play a game.
After a couple of plays, it seems to me that there is a little bit of room for strategic play (mostly in denying your opponents cards that they need) – but in the end, you hope that the hand contains a card that you need (or you draw it into the hand). At worst, you score 4 points at a minimum for each card, so the trick is to figure out how to either maximize your color bonus or how to play cards with the 3s and 4s on them. Given that the wild card does as well point wise as 1/3 of the deck, it does seem like the game comes down to whomever is the luckiest to draw cards or whoever is sitting directly next to the player who doesn’t want to play defensively.
There is an expansion included in the box as well which is set of 4 caboose cards. You randomly draw one of these at the start of the game, and each of them gives a bonus end game condition to strive for. If you meet this condition at the end of the game, you score a bonus 5 VPs. I probably wouldn’t ever play the game without one of these cards because it give you something else to strive for other than simply hoping that you have a matching card in the hand. (And frankly, the base game is pretty plain.)
The art in the game is done in the same minimalistic style (kudos to Dan Thompson and Derrell Louder), and the cards are a nice high quality linen finish. The box is has sturdy reinforced sides and a magnet enclosure that ensures that the cards don’t go flying even when the box tumbles from the shelves. I’ve definitely been impressed with the component quality from Crash Games on their smaller efforts.
Until your next appointment,
The Gaming Doctor