Choo choo! Trains are very clearly the best mode of transport to theme a board game around, as evidenced by the wide variety of train board games that have already been invented. Yes, there are a hell of a lot of games featuring trains, running the whole spectrum from light family games that make for a great way to fill a spare hour, to complex, deep strategy games that’ll have you pontificating track placement into the night.
But with so many train board games to choose between, how do you pick between a title that will transport your games night safely to Fun Station and one that’ll swiftly derail your evening? After all, unless you’re super into your trains (and perhaps you are, you did click on this guide after all) we think it’s fair to say that this somewhat mundane theme will do little to add excitement if the game you pick isn’t up to scratch.
Well luckily, we’re here to be your conductors and help in your search. On this list you’ll find the best train games available, including every kind of train-based gaming experience you might think of, from building rail networks to robbing a train. So all aboard, let’s check out:
The best train board games
Ticket to Ride
Did you seriously think we were going to start somewhere else? Ticket to Ride has become an extremely popular gateway game to the wider world of boardgaming, perhaps second only to Catan. It’s certainly the first game that pops into our heads when we think ‘train board game’, and for many people it’s the first board game they’ll ever play!
Easy to learn, and fun to play Ticket to Ride is a brilliant family board game. It’s super simple to get started and doesn’t take long to play, but there’s enough strategy involved to keep things fresh even after endless playthroughs. With limited track space available and everyone’s route cards hidden, you’re never quite sure when someone else is going to swoop in and nab your spot, forcing you to adjust your plans on the fly. It provides that lovely bit of tension that all the best board games have.
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There are all kinds of Ticket to Ride variants these days. In our view, the smaller city expansions like New York, and the recently announced Ticket to Ride: San Francisco are probably best suited as souvenirs, but most of the larger boxes add something new to the series, and it’s well worth picking up one or two if you’re done with the base game.
In Railroad Ink your goal is simple, you need to connect as many exits on your board together as possible, building roads and railways to connect them and overpasses or stations where the two meet. But it’s not that simple. For starters, you don’t get to pick your track pieces, they’re decided for you by rolls of the dice. For main course, there’s also all kinds of other goals to consider, from building the longest track, to trying to place as many pieces as possible in the high-scoring centre of your board. It’s a smart, compact, and deceptively fiendish little puzzle.
This is another game with a lot of variants, adding everything from the sensible and expected (rivers and lakes in Railroad Ink: Deep Blue) to the less likely and distinctly less relaxing (volcanoes and meteor strikes in Railroad Ink: Blazing Red). They each offer slight tweaks and variants on the main experience – this is one puzzle game that you can poke and prod into exactly the shape you want it.
A lot of train board games are set in the olden days when trains were exciting, new, and liable to be boarded by gun-toting outlaws. But modern trains have much to offer as well, as shown by this deckbuilding board game, efficiently named: Trains.
In Trains you’ll be doing the classic deckbuilding thing, grabbing new cards to fill your deck with better and shinier – in this case – trains. But you’ll also be expanding your territory on a board, laying track and planting stations across Japan, growing a stronger, more robust rail network. It’s like two games in one! Kind of. Despite its somewhat shabby appearance, Trains offers a rich strategy experience, one in which there are lots of different tactics to try out and varied ways to win.
Steam: Rails to Riches
Steam: Rails to Riches places you and up to four other players in the role of railway tycoons, doing all sorts of railway tycoon-y things, building tracks, upgrading trains, and delivering goods. Your aim is to make the most money possible by bringing goods from the towns that make them to the towns that need them most. There’s a lot of decision-making to do, but Steam: Rails to Riches isn’t so long or so complicated that it’ll be unwelcome at more casual tables.
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Steam: Rails to Riches is a rejigged version of an older game, Age of Steam, and many expansions and alternate game boards from that game work perfectly well here, providing plenty of replay value. There’s also an online board game version if you prefer to do your gaming digitally.
Aren’t you sick of all these railroad board games that represent trains with little plastic pieces or coloured cubes? When are these cowards going to come out with a game that actually lets you build a train?
Well, weirdly unreasonable hypothetical stranger, what you need is Colt Express, a very unique train board game, where you play bandits performing a train robbery. Unfortunately, these things never go to plan, and you’ve turned on each other immediately, all squabbling and possibly shooting one another in an effort to be the richest.
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What makes this hand management game stick out is its unique set-up, which has you moving meeples around a 3D cardboard construction that represents a steam train trundling through the desert. It’s a fun and fast-paced card game for two to six players.