Mayfair's Freight Train

Designed by Alan R. Moon
Published by Mayfair Games
This review copyright 1996, 1997 by Steffan O'Sullivan
This page last updated November 2, 1997

Freight Train is a card game of manipulating freight cars in a rail yard. At first glance, it superficially resembles Mayfair's Express. There are significant differences, however.

Freight Train has actually been around for a while. It was first published, with a board, by White Wind, Alan R. Moon's own game company. As with all White Wind titles, Freight Train was released in a limited edition, guaranteed by the publisher not to be duplicated exactly elsewhere.

So Mayfair's edition is slightly different from the original version: it has no board, for example! It's close enough as to provide the same enjoyment, however, so game fans everywhere should be happy to see it republished, especially at such a reasonable price.

The game comes in a small box - same size as Express. It contains 234 cards representing eleven different types of freight cars, plus locomotives, cabooses, bumpers, and an end-of-day card. There is also a small wooden engine which is passed around the table to show who has the first turn on a given ``day'', and the rule book.

While Express is clearly a rummy derivative (with added fun cards to pester your opponents), Freight Train is harder to categorize.

The game is for two to five players, and there are three rounds, or days. Players score points at the end of each day, and the one with the highest score at the end of all three days wins the game.

The Bumper cards define the general train yard: five tracks with bumpers, each holding five freight cars. Each player also has two private bumpers: these lines can hold up to eight cars. In addition, each player has a number of locomotives - exactly how many varies with the number of players and which day it is.

The basic idea is to build long freight trains. If you have five locomotives, you can build five trains. Each train must contain only a given type of freight car - such as all box cars, or all gondolas, or all tankers, etc. You may also build one mixed train, which cannot contain two cars of the same type.

Each turn you may take one action. There are four possible actions:

  1. Move three freight cars from the general yard to your yard and/or trains;
  2. Switch up to four freight cars from your yard to your trains;
  3. Rearrange the order of the cars in your private yards (costs one point);
  4. Call up another locomotive.
In addition, you may fill up a row in the general freight yard with new cards, if there are two empty rows.

Cars can only be taken from the non-bumper end of a line, which makes sense. So if you've got a train with ore cars, and you want that last ore car that's next to your top bumper, you'll either have to pull out all the cars in front of it, or spend a victory point to rearrange your yard.

Each player starts with five victory points, in order to have some to play with for yard rearranging.

Unlike Express, there are no privately held hands - all cards that are in play are visible to all players. There are no nasty cards to hurt other players' efforts. If you want to do that, you'll have to examine their layouts, determine which cards in the general yard they want most, and either take those or leave them deeply buried. You can be devious in this game, but it requires thought and analysis.

The end-of-day card is shuffled into the last half of the deck on the first day, and even further back on succeeding days. When it is drawn, the day is over, and trains are scored. Whoever has the longest train of a given type scores three points, and the second longest scores one point. So if I have six box cars, and my opponents have only five, four and four, respectively, I would score three points for box cars, and one opponent would score one point for box cars.

On the first day, you score points for having lots of cars in your personal freight yard. On the second day, such cars are worth nothing, and on the third day, they actually cost you points.

All in all, a fine little game rewarding thinking and analyzing skills more than luck. Congratulations to Mayfair for continuing to license excellent games and keeping them in print.

Back to SOS' Gameviews
Back to Steffan O'Sullivan's Home Page