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Build a streetcar line in Trambahn

By Tim Kidwell
Published: February 14, 2016
Product: Trambahn is a card game for two players by German game designer Helmut Ohley. Set in Munich at the close of the 19th century, players compete as heads of tram (streetcar) companies to build the most successful routes and push technology from horse-drawn carriages to steam engines and, finally, electric power. The player who scores the most victory points wins the game.
Inside the compact box you’ll find 112 station cards, eight conductor cards, 16 tramway cards, four terminal station cards, a scoring pad and a brief rule book.
Gameplay: While it’s only a two-player game, Trambahn does require quite a bit of room to play; a good-sized coffee table or dining-room table will do. (Don’t try to play this on a plane!)
The terminal station cards are placed in a column from I to IV, and each has a corresponding color: blue, red, green and yellow. The tramway cards are sorted by value and stacked: horse-drawn on top, then steam-powered, and electric on the bottom. The station and conductor cards are shuffled together and dealt—12 to the starting player, 15 to the second player.
Once the game is set up, players takes turns taking five actions. First, a player must place one or two passengers from his hand next to a terminal card of the corresponding color. The passengers don’t have to be the same color, but they must match the terminal’s color. Conductors are wilds, so they can be placed next to any terminal. Where you place passengers requires some forethought and guessing what your opponent’s strategy is, because as soon as a fourth passenger is added to a terminal, it triggers scoring. (More on that in a bit.)
Next, the player places stations. Taking stock of the cards in her hand, the player plays as many cards as she wants in front of her, placing different color cards in separate columns. The cards have to be played in ascending order of their values. A column is complete when it has 10 cards in it and no more can be added. If she has more cards of that color, she can create another column.
Third, the player can place any number of cards from her hand into her money pile. The backs of the cards represent 1,000 marks. Using the money from her money pile, the player can purchase as many trains as she has available funds, starting with horse-drawn trains for 5,000 marks each. The trains are assigned to one of the columns that doesn’t already have a train card. If any column doesn’t have a train card at the end of her turn, they are removed and put into her money pile. Then she draws from the draw pile until she has a hand of six cards.
If at the beginning of a turn a fourth passenger is added to a terminal, both players immediately score all of the columns of the matching color in front of them. Simply­ add up the values of the cards in the column and multiply the total by the value of its train card. Record the scores and discard the four passengers by that terminal. The player’s turn then continues on normally.
After 10 scoring rounds, the game ends. The player with the highest score wins.

Marketing: Deceptively simple to learn and play, ­Trambahn leaves quite a lot of room for bluffing and strategy. Do you build a lot of columns, hoping to generate the capital to buy a lot of trains in the early game, or concentrate on building large lines of a single color to maximize points when scoring?
At its core, Trambahn is a train game and should appeal to fans of the genre looking for something lighter and easier to learn than Empire Builder or Ticket to Ride. Also, it would make a great introduction to hobby games, providing a different flavor and being a little less intimidating than some other entry points, such as Fluxx or Settlers of Catan. My 7-year-old enjoys Trambahn, although it took a couple of times through for him to start picking up the nuances.
My only complaint is that the box doesn’t contain the cards well once they’re loose. Rubber bands are needed to keep from having to sort cards before playing.

Product: Trambahn
Maker: Mayfair Games
Stock No.: 3508
MSRP: $21
Availability: Alliance

• Good entry point
• Multiple strategies possible
• Reasonably priced
• Replayable
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