Sometimes you don’t have time for an epic game of Empire Builder. Mayfair’s Express: The Railroad Card Game offers a different way to play with trains, as Joe Grabianowski explains in this thoroughly playtested review.
Express is a fast-paced, easy to learn card game perfect for a rainy day. A hand of cards gives you the ability to lay down trains with like car types, spell disaster for your opponents’ passengers and cargo, or introduce cards that will prevent your opponent from derailing your own hopes of victory.
Trains are made of like cars and vary in points granted. For example, Box Cars are worth only one point apiece and Auto Carriers are worth five. Cabooses can be played at the end of your trains to lock in those points by preventing disasters from striking that particular train. In addition to the various cargo cars, there are passenger cars as well. If played in a certain order the passenger cars give you a significant bonus. The most brutal play would be a Wreck on a long passenger train for game purposes and of course imaginative ones as well! Wrecks not only take out the train but also the locomotive.
Players’ opening hands are twelve cards and by the end of each turn, players have to be down to five cards. This makes for difficult decisions when it comes to the discard phase. Not only is it difficult to part with a card that may come in handy in the future, but an opponent may draw the top card out of the discard pile at the beginning of his turn, which could result in a completed train for your opponent.
When laying down trains, cards from your hand are placed face down as the train’s locomotive. These cards are interchangeable during your turn and function as a sort of bank of cards that do not count against your hand. You may want to hide some cards your opponent would benefit from instead of a risky discard or you may stock up on some high point cars for future use. One of the last bits of strategy is “going out.” The player may only go out if they have a train of 5 cars and a train of 4 cards. Once this condition is achieved the player has to finish her turn with zero cards and that player gets a ten point bonus to their score while leaving negative points in the opponents hand.
The game develops a push-pull feel where the advantage can swing quickly back and forth between players many times during one round. You can play a few quick games or play up to a cumulative point total with multiple rounds. My girlfriend and I play it when we don’t have a lot of gaming time or when we don’t have the brain-power for much else! That’s not to say there isn’t a lot of thought needed but it’s simply quick and fun. I look forward to teaching it to my children some day and using it as a bargaining chip for room-cleaning, dishes, etc. It is also interesting to note that this game was originally published in 1990 and may be considered a precursor to more popular contemporary games like Ticket to Ride and the like.