TransAmerica and Japan

Franz-Benno Delonge

Publisher: SNE

I think the eras for each train on the cover is off-sync. (Photo credits: DebJ@BGG)

TransAmerica and TransEurope have been around forever. I played a few times probably 15 years ago and likely owned a copy at some point and then sold it because the game just wasn’t “deep” enough. It’s true that the game is light, possibly the lightest train game out there and functions as a filler or night cap if played as single rounds. However, if you play the full game itself, it usually lasts 4-6 rounds depending on the scoring matrix and so, it extends beyond the filler category. Still, the game is so simple and quick that it is tough to ignore if you have a casual gaming crowd. The fact that it is still in print and constantly reprinted is a testament to its longevity and appeal. For me, I picked up the game 15 years later because of my kid. I will talk more about our experiences with the child in the Kid’s Corner below.

To summarize, TransAmerica and Japan is just TransAmerica published in Japan with a double-sided board featuring the American map on one side and Japan on the other. A recent reprint by Ravensburger combined Europe and America in their doubled-sided board. Essentially, game play is the same for all these maps. Just different terrains and locations of cities. Like all train games, TransAmerica and Japan (TA&J) is all about building tracks and connecting cities. On the map are cities grouped into 5 different color categories. Each group of cities are geographically linked. For example in TA&J, the west coast cities are grouped in green while the east coast cities are white. The color groupings are important because players will draw one city card of each group color and try to establish a network that spans the entire continent. This is to ensure that the network for each player is evenly distributed across the board.

Once city cards are distributed and they are hidden information, players will place their station on the board and start placing up to two track pieces on the board each turn, extending from their own station, on a pre-printed triangular grid. To mix things up, water and mountain crossings are considered double routes. So, if you want to play a track through those crossings, it will take up your entire turn (so, you can only place a single track). As each player builds their network of tracks, inevitable, the networks will converge. Once it does, it becomes a free for all as players can then extend tracks built by other players so long they can be linked back to their station. The first player to finish the connection to five stations wins the round.

Scoring is simple: If you finish first, you get 4 points. For the losers, points are deducted for every track you still need to complete your network. So if you still need one more track, you get 3 points, and so forth. The scoring matrix can be adjusted by variant scoring cards to either make the game more forgiving or brutal.

There are variant cards in the game. For this game in TA&J, there are 9 variant cards, but all of them are in Japanese and translating them is a bit challenging. Instead, I remade the 19 variant cards from the Ravensburger reprint porting over TA&J graphics and can be uploaded here. The variants, I think are what will make the game more appealing to gamers as they usually impose restrictions or accelerate game play in different funky ways. A variant is filled over each round and players get to play the game differently each round.

There is one advantage of purchasing TA&J over other versions in that the game comes with pieces to play the “Vexxation” variant, a hugely popular variant that gives everyone three player-specific colored tracks. These tracks can be placed in lieu of the regular black colored tracks and allows players to block access to parts of the network. A casual and friendly game can turn brutal if your track is the only one linking the coasts and by playing a colored piece in a mountain pass, you force other players to circumvent the network. Most other TransAmerica versions do not come with Vexxation and requires either purchasing the tracks separately from a gaming bits store or hunting for a long-out-of-print Vexxation pack (or I guess plunder the road pieces from Catan).

Overall, I think the game is fine but probably not much staying power for adult gamers. It is a decent filler but even I wonder how often it would hit the table given our preference to play card games as fillers.

Initial impressions: Average (perhaps good with Vexxation)

Kid’s Corner

5 years and 10 months: Now, for kids though, TA&J shines. I would rate TransAmerica in general higher for kids. My child has started playing Ticket to Ride probably 6 months ago and while she can build tracks and do set collection well enough, she is still not competitive. The “meanness” machine hasn’t really kicked in for her to play a defensive game. That just means we as parents, we have to tone it down a bit when playing with her. This is not the case for TA&J. Here, she is our equal. Playing without any variants, she needs no help to compete and can routinely beat us with some optimal placement strategies. I think she gets it better and quicker with TA&J. It took her a round or two for her to pick up the rules and perhaps even some nuances on station placement. It doesn’t matter which version of TransAmerica you have, they all work.

I might try to incorporate the variants later, but for now, the game is fun. Most importantly though, I traded for TA&J because TTR is just too darn long …much longer than tired parents want to play on a weekday night. TA&J though is the perfect length. I knew that playing a round or two might be enough to satisfy her gaming urge. It take probably 10-15 minutes per round. This is the perfect strategy game that keeps both of us involved right before bed time. I highly recommend the game as an alternative to TTR if only for the length and competitiveness between adults and kids. The game is no doubt simpler and also less challenging. She may grow out of it shortly, but for now, I see it as a great alternative.

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