Valerie Matthews – Trambahn: The game we played 100 times in 3 months

I have been a gamer for decades, but my husband was only introduced to the hobby when we met, less than 10 years ago.  He has had favorites:  Dominion (good husband), Tichu, Cartagena, Agricola, Caverna, and Wingspan have been a few.  Most of the games he has been exposed to are over a decade old—why buy new games when I have a collection of hundreds that he hasn’t played yet?  Still, about a year ago I put in an order for a half dozen two-player games, since that’s what we mostly play.  I bought:  Schotten Totten, Jaipur, Patchwork, Fox in the Forest, Trambahn, and 7 Wonders Duel.  We played them in that order—or rather, we played the first 5 in that order.  We never made it to 7 Wonders Duel because after we played Trambahn for the first time about three months ago, we have played very little else.

Why did we love Trambahn so much and what did we learn from playing 100 times?  I love it because it feels like a train game, one of my favorite genres.  It is sleek—the same cards are used to build up your investments in each (train/trolley) line, trigger the scoring opportunities, and pay for new lines.  This creates wonderfully difficult decisions about how to use a card on your turn.  There are luck elements that force you to play the hand you are dealt and not just fall back on a favorite strategy that you play every time—so every game ends up being different.

Eric loved it (initially) because it was one of the first games that he groked first.  Because we are often playing games that I’ve played dozens of times before, I almost always have an advantage. Even when playing a game for the first time, it is often feels familiar enough that I get the hang of it first. And while I did win the first game of Trambahn, he went on to win the next 5 in a row!  It wasn’t until I finally gave up on a specific strategy (holding cards from hand to hand) that I started to have any success.  By that time, we were both hooked.  Over the course of 100 games, we each had additional insights that gave us a winning streak for a while (there *are* times when it is worthwhile to hold a card), but no one ever won more than 6 games in a row.  After 100 games, I won 58, Eric won 41, and there was one tie.  There were lots of close games and lots of blow outs.  No one could enjoy losing a game 100 times in a row, so one reason this remained a favorite is because we were fairly evenly matched without it being just a random luck fest.

The game is really well balanced!  The first player won 45% of the time.  There never seemed to be a single winning strategy that could be played regardless of cards dealt.  For example, there is an opportunity for additional scorings called extra tours.  I was worried at first that they were a little too important, and after looking up a rule online, I discovered that we were misplaying one aspect of the extra tours.  (This was after 43 games!!!!  So my stats on extra tours are based on games #44 – 100.)  When played with the correct rule, the winner of the game had more points from extra tours 68% of the time—so they are important.  We only had one game where neither of us had any extra tours.  But they aren’t the only path to victory.

While there is a luck factor, a single game involves enough card drawing to generally balance out the luck.  One player might have much better cards for the early game, but that’s ok!  The other player can save up those unplayed cards as “money” and buy more valuable lines later.  Like any good train game, your monopoly in a color for an early scoring can be trivialized by a bigger scoring later in the game where your opponent has taken over your initial advantage.  On the other hand, the game prevents a stale mate with both players just stockpiling money—when the deck runs out and the discard pile needs to be reshuffled, you lose half of the money you’ve been saving up!  The game has such great tension and when you time your purchases poorly—oh, the agony!

This game is going to continue to be played weekly, if not daily, for…. forever.  It’s quick to set up, portable (so it will become a staple in our suitcase), plays in about 30 minutes, and leaves *both* of us feeling like we’ve had enjoyable, quality time doing something together.  Now I just need to print out some scores sheets or create a scoring app—the game comes with 100.

I’d rather be gaming!

Valerie Matthews

About Valerie Putman

I'm a prof. I'm a gamer. I'm an animal behaviorist. I'm a girl. But the one word used to describe me most often? "Enthusiastic."
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7 Responses to Valerie Matthews – Trambahn: The game we played 100 times in 3 months

  1. RJ says:

    Great article. Will pick this one up ASAP.

  2. mobu67 says:

    It sounds really interesting! I love a balanced game.

  3. Robert Miller says:

    I’ll definitely look into this one…

  4. seisyll says:

    Wish I had a consistent partner for this one – I’m alone in my love of it. By the designer of First Class – another absolutely incredible game.

  5. says:

    I’ve had this sitting in my closet for years still in shrink wrap, I gotta dig it out one of these days!

  6. Mike Demyanovich says:

    I bought this immediately after reading this article. We have played 7 games and I have been blown out in everyone! I’m a gamer as well so I haven’t taken kindly to this. I’ve tried holding cards,getting rid of all of em for money,tried for extra tours……nothing worked. So far it doesn’t seem balanced at all.

    • Valerie Matthews says:

      The key to this game is playing the cards you’re dealt. It’s definitely more tactical than strategic. After 160 games, I now have a dozen or so different game styles that I can adapt to what I get.

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