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Was I on board with loving trains? Thoughts on Isle of Trains All Aboard!

Updated: Nov 21, 2023


Isle of Trains All Aboard Box Art

Players: 1-4 players Playtime: Between 20-60 minutes (player count dependent) Ages: 12+

All aboard in Isle of Trains! This beautiful small box game by Dranda Games for 1-4 players involves the use of cards to build up your engine (yes, your literal engine - your train!), fulfil contracts and deliver goods to destinations in an effort to become the most successful conductor on a small island. It was originally launched on Kickstarter. I have played Isle of Trains All Aboard predominantly solo, but have also played it once two player, so my review will mostly be from a solo perspective.

Gameplay In Isle of Trains All Aboard, you start with a small level one engine in front of you with a hand of five train cards. You take turns taking two actions, after which you replenish any cards taken from the display and discard down to five cards in your hand. Turns in this game play very quickly and the solo mode works by you taking two actions each turn, discarding a card from the draw pile and continuing on.

Isle of Trains All Aboard - Engine Artwork. This is a starting level one engine.

On your turn you may choose two actions as follows:

1) Pick up a train card from the display or the top of the deck 2) Take a passenger from the bag 3) Load a good or passenger onto a train car 4) Build a card from your hand 5) Deliver goods and/or passengers to a single destination on the island


There is a display of three face up train cards to select from as well as the main train deck if you draw a card during the game. The train cards may be engines (which can be used to upgrade your starting engine to a more powerful train), cabooses (which can give ongoing bonuses), tankers (transport oil), hoppers (transport coal), boxcars (transport boxes), coaches (transport passengers) or buildings (for end game scoring bonuses). These cards are multi use so they can be used to upgrade existing train cars in your train, expand your train length and overall capacity, or be used as goods to load onto your train to deliver to a destination later in the game.


Each train card has a specific cost to build, and to build the train card or building you need to discard that number of cards from your hand. If you choose to upgrade a particular card, for example a level one engine to a level two engine, you only need to pay the difference. The tricky thing here is that often the more powerful cards are costly at seven to nine cards, which is above your normal hand limit! This means you need to carefully plan your turns to ensure you can both draw new cards and build the train car before the end of your turn, where you need to discard down to five cards. You also need to be very aware of the engine capacity of your train; upgraded engines have a greater engine capacity so will allow you to pull a greater number of train cars or heavier cars!



In the solo mode, if you load a good or passenger into your train, you trigger benefits which may include drawing additional cards, grabbing some point tokens or give you additional bonus actions. This is where the solo mode differs from the multiplayer game, as in the multiplayer game, you only get the additional benefits when you load into someone ELSE'S train! This creates the space for many difficult decisions and a lot of neck craning! Particular train cars carry specific goods so you can only load a good or passenger if you have the appropriate space for them.


In the centre of the table, there is a gorgeous map of the island you are delivering to and if you choose to do a delivery action on your turn you need to select one of these destinations, called island cards. You can only deliver to one location per action. There are seven destinations in the game in total but only six of these are used in 1-3 player games.



On each island card, there is a primary contract and two secondary contracts and during set up you issue a ticket tile to each of the areas as well. If you deliver to a destination and you have the goods loaded onto your train, you can choose to deliver to the primary contract and take this card for your display. In a multiplayer game, this means that only you can now deliver to this location. For all player counts, you are only able to have one island card in your display at a time. If and when you deliver to one of the secondary contracts on your island card, you tuck this under your engine ready for final scoring and are then free to deliver to another primary contract to your liking! As part of a delivery action you may also choose to deliver matching coloured people to the destination (each place is associated with a colour), which triggers immediate bonuses, or do a special delivery which involves discarding any loaded passenger or good to draw additional cards into your hand. You can choose to do as many of these delivery options on your turn as you like, potentially triggering multiple bonuses!


The end of the game is triggered slightly differently according to player count. In a solo game, the game end is triggered as soon as the draw deck is empty, but you do have the option at any point during the game to return three victory point tokens to return a card to the top of the deck from the discard pile. In a multiplayer game, however, there is an amazing wooden train monitoring the game's progress. The train progresses every time a player takes an island card (satisfies a primary contract) or when three passengers are delivered to a destination. For each player count, there is a threshold of progress which triggers the end game (four progress for 2-players, six for 4-player etc). The game may also end if both the draw pile and the discard pile are empty, but this would require an awful lot of building!


Isle of Trains All Aboard - Screen Printed Meeples are in the background and in the foreground is the wooden train which keeps track of the  game's progress on a track

At the end of the game, you tally up you victory point tokens, points from your built train cars, points from primary and secondary contracts, any leftover loaded goods or passengers, and end game scoring criteria from any buildings (each player can only build a maximum of one) and whoever has the most points wins! The solo game is a beat your own score primarily with a scoring table to assess your success.


Solo Scenarios

On top of the beat your own score variant as described above, the solo game has a set of ten scenarios to beat! These scenarios give you an objective to achieve, and the game is only won if you manage to achieve this before the deck runs out. Examples of some of these objectives are beating a particularly large score, building a certain number of train cars or delivering a certain number of passengers to island cards.


I've particularly enjoyed working through these scenarios, as this has helped me explore the different areas of the game in more depth. Some of these scenarios focus solely on points so I need to focus on building upa good point engine(!), whilst in others you can almost completely ignore the goods and instead concentrate on the specifics of the train cards and their carrying capacity. The most recent scenario I played needed me to build a total of 13 train cars, which meant I was focusing solely on my train and the engine capacity and completely ignoring the island in the middle of the table. Therefore, on one hand these scenarios have really helped me explore the individual parts of the game and have been very fun challenges, but in some I have felt that they have encouraged me to neglect a core part of the gameplay. For a small-box game however the attention to the solo mode has greatly impressed me and provides a very good amount of replay-ability.


Multiplayer thoughts

I really enjoyed this game multiplayer as it was doing something a little bit different. I loved the concept that you would only trigger the bonuses of a loading action when you loaded into someone else's train car! I was constantly bending to see my husband's train capacity and trying to figure out if it was worth filling up his train with goods he didn't want or if it was worth forsaking that added bonus but having that good in my own train to deliver to my own chosen island card. It felt quite intricate strategy wise and was quite a bit of fresh air. I'm not sure how easy this would be to play at higher player counts as I could imagine trying to see what three other trains are doing alongside yours would create quite a headache!


Production

The production of this game is some of the best I've seen. I have been playing the deluxe edition of the game, which includes screen printing on the passenger meeples, a promotional engine card (the Time Engine!) and ticket tiles, a larger bag to hold the passengers and internal box artwork. On top of this, I have been playing with the neoprene playmat, which was additional to the deluxe edition.


Everything in this game is absolutely gorgeous and top-notch in quality. The artwork is bright, interesting and charming, the cards are thick and linen finished, the meeples are chunky wood and have characterful screen printing. The internal box art, whilst quite unnecessary, was a wonderful touch and really seals the deal on this feeling like a truly loved and top-quality game. Although available as a separate purchase to the game, the playmat is vibrant and well made. This was the first time I've played with a dedicated playmat and I thoroughly enjoyed the additional tactile addition of this. All in all this is one of the best productions I have ever seen, and I've seen some pretty good quality games!


Conclusion - Isle Of Trains All Aboard


Replay-ability

There is little to change the standard setup in this game so I would say this has about average replay-ability. Each game you can swap around the ticket tiles that are associated with each island card, but ultimately this doesn't really change anything. The addition of the solo scenarios definitely makes this a game you can play a good number of times back to back solo without it feeling tired.


Production Value

Fabulous! Some of the very best production I have seen in a game. The cardboard is of good quality, so I can imagine the passenger tokens in the retail edition would also be very good.


Theme

For what is essentially a multiuse card game engine builder, this feels surprisingly thematic! It's satisfying tucking your goods cards under your train cars or placing your passenger meeples on your cards when loading. I also quite like the ability to claim the delivery route to a particular island card - multiple trains could cause a crash I guess!


Complexity

The multiplayer games definitely takes a little head scratching to know what is best to do in terms of loading onto your train vs someone else's, but on the whole this is a quite light game with a comfortable amount of strategy to keep the interest.


Rules

Very good - I felt I had a good grasp of the game from my initial read of the rules. The only misunderstanding I had was about scoring the secondary contracts but this made complete sense after reading a forum post on Board Game Geek. Player aids are also included, which summarise the actions you can take on your turn and are very clear and helpful.


Uniqueness

I feel like train games are usually presented in a much larger box and are more intimidating than this title so I feel that Isle of Trains fills a little niche here. I like the multiuse cards and how they can be used as an individual train car, an upgraded train car, as a currency when building or a good and love watching the growth of the train. Not entirely unique but on the whole the package certainly feels fresh, especially with the addition of the solo scenarios.


Value

I believe the deluxe edition of the game is only available directly through Dranda Games and is currently £27. In comparison, I could find the retail edition of the game for around £15-£20. I think this is pretty reasonable for both editions, and very much depends on the experience you are looking for as to which edition is best for you and your group!


5/6 for Isle of Trains All Aboard - Rhiannon

Overall I think this game can be a really nice addition for a good variety of people. A good small-box lighter strategy game for families or a quicker puzzle type game for the solo gamer. I think it would tick a lot of people's boxes. I would give this game a 5 out of 6! Rhiannon - Solo Gaming Specialist


Isle of Trains All Aboard - Screen Printed Meeples. Black, blue, orange, purple, white and green for the corresponding island locations.
5/6 for Isle of Trains All Aboard - Mr Chris

So I really loved the premise about the game when I spoke to Simon from Dranda Games at UKGE. I was totally sold and I knew my father-in-law Derek would have totally loved this game, sadly he passed before we could get this for him, this game will forever be yours (RIP Derek). That and I am a stickler for good playmat and engine builder, this ticks all my boxes and it's a solid game too. My only little issue was that some of the rules in the main rulebook were a little confusing (loading etc) and I had to use the FAQs online a little for clarification BUT once the confusion has steamed away I was able to sort my tickets and rally on! (Enough train puns?)

I agree with Rhiannon, a solid 5/6

Mr Chris - The Founder


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