Train board games sound as boring as waiting for the 17.49 from Dullsworth, Tediumville. Go on, admit it - it’s okay. We won’t take it personally. With thousands of tabletop games out there about battling cosmic monsters from another dimension, venturing hundreds of years into the past to trade goods in a far-off land or convincing a room full of your closest friends you’re to be trusted as you secretly sabotage their plans as a hidden spy, even the best train board games can look a bit drab in comparison.
It’s true that not everyone is a fan of steam power, ironwork and locomotives. That doesn’t mean that train games aren’t for you, however. Get past the seemingly mundane subject matter and you’ll find a genre full of inventive and exciting board games that offer supremely satisfying hours playing with friends.
- 1. Railways of the World: Travel the globe with this beginner-friendly series.
- 2. Railroad Ink: A dinky dice game portable enough to play on the go.
- 3. Whistle Stop: Race across the US in this express trip.
- 4. 1830: Railways & Robber Barons: The classic game of stock trading and railroad management.
- 5. Steam: Rails to Riches: A step up in strategy from Ticket to Ride, but without overdoing the complexity.
- 6. Stephenson’s Rocket: Be the last railroad left standing in this competitive track-builder.
- 7. Russian Railroads: Assign your workers carefully to become the top railroad empire.
- 8. Empyreal: Spells & Steam: Make tracks from magic in a fantasy world.
- 9. Trains: Ticket to Ride meets Dominion is this deckbuilding card game.
- 10. Colt Express: Stick 'em up in the chaotic train-robbing board game.
In fact, we’d be so bold as to say some of the best train games are among the very best board games ever released. From the simple challenge of laying down track to connect point A to point B (sometimes via points C through Z) to the complex strategy of managing thriving railroad businesses and everything in-between, train games run the gamut of tabletop gaming.
If you’ve only dipped your toe into this deep and wide genre with beginner board game classic Ticket to Ride - in itself one of the best train games going, and easily the most popular board game with a locomotive on its box - join us on a pleasant journey through the must-see sights of the board game world as we run down the best train games available.
Best train games
Although quite a few board games include trains, not all of them are train games. While the genre itself doesn’t stick to the tracks quite as neatly as you’d expect, the best train board games often have a few things in common that mark them out as more than ‘a game with trains’.
One of the most common gameplay elements in train board games is the construction or management of railroads and tracks. As a beginner board game at the simpler end of the train game spectrum, Ticket to Ride is among the purest examples of this - each turn, players can lay down routes between locations, scoring points for the destinations they connect. This gameplay mechanic can sometimes appear in other board games, where it’s occasionally called “route-building”. This can mean players completing predetermined paths between locations - Ticket to Ride’s fixed routes, for example - or being able to choose their own way from one point to another, as with train games involving tiles with sections of track on that players can place as they please. Some train games might venture in the challenge of delivering goods from one location to another along these routes - also known as “pick-up-and-deliver” games.
Another popular element of train games is the ability to manage the companies running the trains themselves. This pops up in some of the more complex train games, where juggling stock, handling finances and having to consider the cost of operating trains and building track is part of the challenge and fun. The 18xx sub-genre of train board games, named after classic board game 1829, indulges in this added complexity, with players investing in and controlling different railroad companies in the pursuit of profit.
Whatever combination of gameplay rules you enjoy, be it a peaceful trip across Europe or a merciless scramble for power, there’s a train game out there for you. Here are ten of the best train board games you should play after Ticket to Ride.
1. Railways of the World
A good next stop for Ticket to Ride fans
Railways of the World may not be as well-known as the Ticket to Ride series, but it’s just as expansive, covering multiple standalone board games and expansions set across the globe.
It’s the perfect train game for players looking to go just one gear up from Ticket to Ride’s beginner-friendly track-building, introducing the need to manage the cost of constructing railroads and deliver goods along completed routes without over-complicating things.
Players can eventually upgrade their locomotives to travel further and faster, as well as investing in the cities they connect to their growing network to further profit from supplying goods around the map. As with Ticket to Ride’s hidden destination cards, each player has a secret objective they’re aiming to fulfill, encouraging players to block off each other using their hex track tiles.
There are a number of entries in the Railways of the World series, but we’d recommend Railways of Nippon as a good jumping on point. The Japan-set box plays with slightly fewer people than the full Railways of the World, but it’s a good bit cheaper and a great way of picking up the rules to see if it’s the train game for you. If it is, there’s no shortage of maps - including those available online - to keep you on track for a long time to come.
2. Railroad Ink
Take the express route in this fast and portable dice game
If you’re looking for the fun track-building puzzle of a train game in a very small package, Railroad Ink has you covered.
A roll-and-write game available in two different flavours - Blazing Red and Deep Blue - Railroad Ink challenges players to use the track pieces they roll on a set of dice to connect up different routes on their individual player board.
All of the players use the same dice results each round, keepings things fair. As well as sections of track, there are highways and roads to hook up, with stations and other features allowing players to create impressive criss-crossing layouts for the highest score possible.
Each colourful set throws in some extra excitement with optional mini-expansion dice: lava and meteors that must be avoided in Blazing Red and lakes and rivers that can provide a scenic route - with extra points - in Deep Blue.
Packed in travel-friendly-sized boxes and able to be played with both big groups and alone as a solo board game, Railroad Ink is perhaps the best train game to play if you’re travelling on an actual train - but don’t wait for that excuse to give it a go.
3. Whistle Stop
Carry cargo as far as you can in this charming pick-up-and-deliver game
Forget slow steam engines chugging across the country: Whistle Stop is an express train from coast to coast.
An inventive spin on the traditional challenge of pick-up-and-deliver - moving goods from one place to another to score points and profit - Whistle Stop sees players racing across the United States. The further they carry their cargo from east to west, the more they stand to gain - but dropping them off early might give you the bump needed to invest in more goods and shares. Manage the valuable resource of coal carefully and you could stand to make a tidy sum.
Like Railways of the World, Whistle Stop adds some of the more strategic elements of heftier train games to the mix, with players able to gain shares in railroad companies and boost their reputation with every delivery.
Of course, you’ll also be building track, placing down hex tiles to create the main map and guide your locomotives to the next town requiring your wares - or delay other players’ trains to give you the advantage.
With its bright colour scheme and reasonably quick playing time - steaming in at under an hour - Whistle Stop is a great train game for when you want something that won’t slow down from start to finish.
4. 1830: Railways & Robber Barons
Manipulate stocks in the richly rewarding complex classic
1830 is a true classic, first released in the mid-1980s as the successor to 1829, the complex train game by designer Francis Tresham - who also created the highly influential board game Civilization - that spawned the niche but beloved 18xx sub-genre.
Almost 40 years on, 1830 is arguably still the genre’s high point, a crunchy and highly strategic game with almost zero luck involved. Players wrestle over control of multiple railroad companies, buying and controlling shares to make as much money as possible while driving their competitors out of business. Sending the stock price soaring before cashing out and leaving your fellow railroad tycoons out of pocket is all part of 1830’s brutal but brilliant strategic hook.
As well as managing the railroad businesses, you’ll need to operate the trains themselves, placing down hexagonal track tiles on the map of the US that spans the board. The real action takes place in the stock market, though, with buying low and selling high key to victory.
The modern reprint of 1830 preserves the classic feel and epic length of the original, which can take several hours to play. Many 18xx titles have since followed the track it laid, but 1830 remains one of the best - and an excellent introduction to the train game sub-genre for players looking for a slow and brain-burning but rewarding time. Just don’t expect to make (or keep) many friends.
5. Steam: Rails to Riches
Lay track, invest and deliver for profit and victory
An oiled version of acclaimed train game Age of Steam that makes its gameplay slightly easier to learn and play, Steam: Rails to Riches sits alongside the likes of Railways of the World as a train board game that adds another layer of strategy to track-building.
Players lay down sections of railroad to form connections between towns. Their trains travel these routes, delivering goods far and wide to make as much money as they can. This money can be invested into upgraded locomotives and even improved towns, cashing in increasing amounts of money and victory points before the game is up.
As with many other train games, Steam has seen various maps released, taking its railroad action from the US and Canada to Europe and further afield.
Much more friendly for newcomers to pick up than Age of Steam or the more complex train games they gesture towards, but offering more meaningful decisions and strategy than Ticket to Ride, Steam: Rails to Riches is a suitable stop-off on your journey through the genre.
Buy Steam: Rails to Riches on Amazon US.
6. Stephenson’s Rocket
Expand, merge, vote and be the only railroad left standing
Named after the groundbreaking locomotive, Stephenson’s Rocket comes from the mind of designer Reiner Knizia, the prolific creator of games including Lost Cities, Tigris & Euphrates and Modern Art - several of which are considered among the best board games of all time.
Stephenson’s Rocket sees players laying down track for multiple railroad companies, chugging their locomotives across the hex board and leaving track tiles behind them. When the locomotives come into contact with towns across the map, the players score points based on how much they’ve invested into each town and stations they’ve built.
You might face resistance as you try to further your own interests, however. When a player takes an action, the rest of the table can use their sway with the railroad company to veto their move, at the cost of their precious shares in the business.
Shares are important because when two tracks touch, they combine, merging the railroad companies into one - benefitting the players with the most shares. The game ends when one railroad has absorbed all of the others, making the choice of when to merge a crucial one.
First released at the end of the last century, Stephenson’s Rocket didn’t see another reprint for almost 20 years, before finally receiving a spruced up re-release a few years ago thanks to Kickstarter. The new edition is a gorgeous version of a great game, a unique train game that’s as easy as Ticket to Ride to learn but can easy sit alongside it on your shelf.
7. Russian Railroads
Assign your workers carefully to build the most impressive railroad network
Russian Railroads combines the humble train game with a mainstay gameplay mechanic of Eurogames: worker placement. Each turn, the players assign their available workers to extend track, buy new engines and factories, gain coins, or expand their workforce with more employees or engineers with powerful abilities.
Each action requires a different number of workers, so choosing how you assign your workers is the crux of winning.
Adding to the strategy is the need to build your tracks in a particular order, earning more points for later routes - but needing to advance earlier railways in order to extend the more valuable tracks. The type of train on each line also determines how many points you receive during scoring, and the players earn bonuses from extending their tracks as they go.
Offering a shovelful of burning coal for your mind furnace to chew on, Russian Railroads will probably get your brain spewing as much steam as its steel stars. It’s among the least train-y of the train games on this list, but if you’re after a strategic puzzle to mull over for a few hours with friends, it’ll put you on the right track.
8. Empyreal: Spells and Steam
Travel across a fantasy land full of magic
If the Hogwarts Express is the most magical locomotive you’ve come across, prepare for a new frontrunner.
Empyreal: Spells & Steam is a train game set in the World of Indines, the fantastical anime-inspired tabletop universe that’s home to board games including BattleCON, Pixel tactics and Argent: The Consortium.
Here, train tracks are constructed using mana - and it’s up to the players, as technomancers, to build them by harnessing the magical power of the land. By connecting towns across the world to their network of rails, the players can gather more resources. The value of the resources can fluctuate depending on how in demand they are among the players, encouraging players to strive for more valuable resources as they expand.
During the game, players’ technomancers can acquire new spells to help them in their expansion across the world, using their mana crystals effectively to beat their opponents to new locations and make as much money as they can.
Offering a familiar kind of train game in a very unfamiliar kind of setting, Empyreal: Spells & Steam sprinkles a bit of magic into the genre.
Buy Empyreal: Spells & Steam from publisher Level 99 Games.
Ticket to Ride meets Dominion in this train-themed deckbuilder
There are many deckbuilding games and many train games, but few board games that combine the two popular genres into one. Enter: Trains.
Trains’ core gameplay follows the deckbuilder template laid down by the influential Dominion. Players each start with a small individual set of cards, which they gradually add to by acquiring more and more cards, customising their deck to suit their chosen route to victory.
In this case, the players are the owners of rival train firms in Japan trying to expand their rail network across the country and outgrow their opponents. As the players’ decks grow, they’ll gain the ability to build stations and lay down more track, earning points along the way.
Trains isn’t just a deckbuilding card game. It combines its card-driven strategy with a central board that players place cubes on to extend their track, aiming to spread far and wide across either Tokyo or Osaka (depending on which side of the double-sided board you’re using).
With the track-laying aspect of Ticket to Ride on its board and the gathering momentum of adding cards to your personal deck of Dominion, Trains offers much more than its simple name suggests - to fans of either genre.
10. Colt Express
Stick ‘em up - this is a robbery!
Surprise! Colt Express isn’t a train game in the strictest sense, but it’s a great board game set on a train, so we’re taking the opportunity to include it here anyway.
Players are train robbers looking to fleece a Wild West locomotive and its passengers for all they’re worth. There’s no honour among thieves here: the bandits aren’t working together, so they’ll have to compete with each other, as well as the threat of the marshall hot on their spurred heels.
Rounds in Colt Express are split into two halves. Players first scheme by secretly playing action cards, deciding where they’ll move and what they’ll rob - or who they’ll shoot. Then, all of the cards are resolved in order. This means that someone might suddenly move, not be where you expect them to be or beat you to nicking the loot.
The bandits can punch each other to steal collected treasures, as well as using their character’s special ability to gain the edge over their rival robbers. Bullets become useless cards in a player’s hand, placed there by a dead-eye opponent or the marshall.
Nothing like any of the other board games on this list, Colt Express is nevertheless a fun way to see out an evening spent riding the rails with some of the best train games around.