Trans America is a board game designed by Franz-Benno Delonge and published in the United States by Rio Grande Games and internationally by Winning Moves. The game revolves around the laying of railroad track on a map of the United States, with the goal of each player to establish a route between their desired target cities.
The game is played with two to six players and can easily be played in 30 minutes.
Goal of the Game or, how do I win?
The goal of the game is to construct a network of railroads that connect your five cities, which you draw at the start of a round, or, failing that, ensuring that the fewest number of empty spaces exist for your railroad in completing that goal. Completing the circuit awards no points (points are earned based on the number of missed spaces), and the person with the lowest score wins the game.
Bits and Pieces or, what's in the box?
The game consists of:
+ A game board, which depicts a slightly modified map of the United States. This map is overlaid by a series of isosceles triangles, which form the possible routes that your railroad can follow. Also clearly marked are many cities at the intersection points of some triangles. Also, some triangles have double lines as an edge, which signifies that the line will cross a river or a mountain. Also of note is the scoring track along the top of the board, which players will use to keep score.
+ 85 railroad tracks, which are actually little black pieces of wood, matchstick shaped, but shorter; actually, the length of an edge of one of the triangles on the board. These lay over the edge of the triangles on the board to depict a laid railroad.
+ 35 city cards, seven each of five different colors. Two each of the five colors have dashed lines on the front and back.
+ 6 start markers which mark the starting point of a player's rail network
+ 6 locomotive tokens to use for scoring purposes
+ 1 "starting player" card, which has no other purpose than to indicate which player started a particular round
+ 1 copy of the game rules
Playing The Game or, what are the rules?
To begin, each player selects a locomotive and a start marker of the same color. Everyone places their locomotive marker at one end of the scoring track, and then someone places a railroad track horizontally at the other end of the track. Whenever someone crosses this track, the game ends.
If there are two or three players playing, then take the ten cards that have a dashed border and discard them (if you want). Take the remaining cards, shuffle them, then spread them out face down. Each player takes one card of each color and keeps them hidden from the other players; the five cities depicted on the other side of the cards are the five cities that that player must connect. Someone decides to be the starting player and grabs the starting player card to sit in front of themselves (just to signify who started the round).
Each player then (in turn, starting with the "starting player") places their start marker at one of the junctions on the board. Players can choose any junction, although choosing the same one as another player (or even a very close junction) is often counter-productive.
Play begins with the starting player.
Playing A Round
On his or her turn, a player can do one of three things:
+ Place a single railroad track on any edge on the board with a single line.
+ Place a single railroad track on any edge on the board with a double line.
+ Place two railroad tracks, but they must both be on edges with single lines.
These railroads MUST connect into the same network that houses that player's start token; in other words, you must be able to follow an unbroken line of placed rails from the placement of the new rail to the player's starting token.
If you connect to another player's network of rails, both players can then use the other person's rails as if that were their own network. In other words, it becomes a merger of sorts (although both players still have their own goal).
Ending A Round
When someone places a track that connects the five cities that any player holds in his card hand, the player with the connected cities reveals their hand. The current player can finish his or her turn before the round ends, however, placing another single-edge rail if they wish.
When a round is finished, each player determines the minimum number of rails that they would need to connect their five cities, with double-lined rails counting as two. This is the score each player earns for a round, so each player moves his or her scoring locomotive that many spaces (to keep track of the scores).
If this is the conclusion of the second round, then the barrier marker at the end of the scoring track is moved to the place two spaces away from the leading player. This makes sure that in a game full of very strong players, the game doesn't go on for a long time. In games of experienced players, we sometimes toss out this rule.
Whenever someone crosses the barrier marker, the game is over and the person with the lowest score (i.e., the farthest from the barrier) wins the game.
Starting A New Round
To start a new round, sweep all of the rails and starter tokens off of the board, reshuffle the cards, redraw the cards, pass the starter card to the left, and begin anew.
Strategies or, how can I tactically control the board?
There are several strategies, mostly dependent on what cards you draw. A few of the more successful ones are outlined below.
The isolation strategy revolves around determining which of your cities is the farthest from the others, and placing your starting marker there. Then, build away from the other players, but in the best direction you can manage toward a nearby city that you need, but avoid actually connecting other cities into your network. This works best when playing with a smaller number of players, as often they network together cities that you need. This strategy is very reactive and tricky to play well at first.
The meganet strategy is basically the opposite of isolation: your goal is to network your towns together as soon as possible, almost ignoring what other players are doing. Usually, you can connect three or four cities fairly quickly; then your goal becomes connecting the remaining ones by whatever means necessary while slowing down your opponents.
The dump strategy basically involves just connecting to your neighbors as soon as you can. This strategy doesn't usually result in winning rounds, but you almost always score lower than other players.
Fun Factor or, should I bother?
In terms of "bang for the buck," this game is tremendously fun. It provides some wonderfully elegant and simple strategic choices, doesn't have many rules, and plays very quickly. If you see this within your price range (don't pay more than $30 for it, tops), it's definitely worth picking up.
Similar games include The Settlers of Catan and Acquire, both of which come highly recommended.