best train board games

Best Train Board Games – Top 10

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Trains are awesome. There’s just something magnificent about a thousand tonne steel behemoth that blasts past you, while you’re sitting in your car, waiting for the locks to open.

No wonder trains are a very popular theme for toys and hobbies. You start with watching Thomas as a kid, then move to all sort of wooden train toys, HO train sets, models, miniatures and computer games (ah, the hours I spent playing Railroad Tycoon). It’s no wonder board games hopped on that train too (sorry for the pun), and there are many available – but which are the best train board games?

Starting research for the article, I had only known and played Ticket to Ride. I was aware that there were other, much more complicated games – I’ve heard of 18XX and Steam, but didn’t really know what they do or how they play.

I’ve learned that a lot of them employ similar concepts and mechanics: building tracks, buying trains, connecting cities, controlling or owning a railroad company, buying shares of railroad companies, hauling goods and getting rich are present in most games on the list.

It’s the way those mechanics are implemented – some games emphasize one’s over others, some use simplified mechanics, while others use very intricate mechanics. That’s why I felt this guide is needed – to help you understand the differences and pick the games that you will enjoy the best.

The article is structured as list, sorted by the games’ complexity, ascending. So, we’re going from simplest to the most complicated. Then, in the conclusion, I will give my recommendations and personal favorites.

Table of Contents

Click on an entry below to quickly jump to that part of the article:

Beside every game you will find a link to its BoardGameGeek page (the largest board game database), where you can find more information about a game, as well as a link to the Amazon store, where you can easily check out the price for the game. Note, that I am affiliated with Amazon – if you click on an affiliate ink and decide to buy something, I will earn a commission.


Ticket to Ride Series

Games in series (link to their BoardGameGeek page):

  • Ticket to Ride (USA); 2004
  • Ticket to Ride: Europe; 2005
  • Ticket to Ride: Märklin; 2006
  • Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries; 2007
  • Ticket to Ride: Deutschland; 2012
  • Ticket to Ride: Rails & Sails World; 2016
  • Ticket to Ride: Rails & Sails Great Lakes; 2016
  • Expansions and map collections are available for many of the above titles.
  • Standalone Spin-offs like: The Card Game, First Journey, London and New York.

Player count: Normally for 2-5 players, varies slightly on the map size.

Playing time: 30-60 minutes. Some variants, like Rails & Sails take longer, while pocket versions (London and New York) only take 10-15 minutes to complete.

Complexity: Very easy to learn and accessible for new players.

Description:

The impact Ticket to Ride has had on the rise of board gaming, cannot be underestimated. It introduced legions of new players to the hobby and has replaced Monopoly as a go-to family board game.

Its secret lies in its simplicity. You collect cards of different color from which you then assemble trains and place them on tracks of that color. Longer tracks give more points and you get extra points for connecting certain cities (depending on your objective cards).

Despite its simplicity it still allows for some strategy: holding to your cards or playing them now, obstructing other players, hiding your agendas etc. Successive editions add more game mechanics: tunnels, ferries, stations, ships, harbors and others, while maintaining its simplistic wining formula.

Main Features:

  • A modern-day classic.
  • Easy to learn – great for introducing new players to board gaming.
  • Plenty of editions to satisfy different tastes.

Who should get it?

Ticket to Ride is not only a mandatory addition to any board gamer’s shelf, but also an essential entertainment tool for a modern family. It’s something everyone can get into and enjoy instantly.

Click here to check out the prices for Ticket to Ride on Amazon



Colt Express

Link to BoardGameGeek page

Player count: 2-6 players

Playing time: 30-40 minutes

Complexity: simple

Description:

Colt Express is a bit different to other train games on the list. Here, you won’t be building or buying anything, instead you’ll play as one of the bandits robbing the train!

Game takes place on a cardboard 3D train, where players, each controlling a bandit, move from car to car or on the roof. You can punch and shoot other bandits, rob the passengers and try to draw the Marshall out of position.

Players play cards from their hand and onto a common pile and actions are then carried out. You can play cards like steal (if there is loot in your car), shoot other players if they are near etc. What matters, is the order of those cards – you want first to get rid of competition and then go looting.

Every character has a special power (like starting with extra cards or pocketing extra loot) which adds to diversity. When you shoot someone, you give them a bullet card, which acts as a dead card in their deck, which is a very elegant solution, that reminds me a lot of wound cards in Mage Knight.

Main Features:

  • Fun game of bandits, robbing a train.
  • Easy to learn and accessible for the whole family.

Who should get it?

If you like a good western, you’ll enjoy hopping around the train cars and shooting others. This is a simple, fun and short play board game, suitable for all audiences.

Click here to check out the price of Colt Express on Amazon


First Class: All Aboard the Orient Express!

Link to BoardGameGeek page

Player count: 2-4 players

Playing time: 40-80 minutes

Complexity: light/medium

Description:

As the name suggests, First Class is themed around the Orient Express. Players compete to build the best possible luxurious train line by adding cars to trains, upgrading them to attract wealthier passengers and extend their lines towards Constantinople and beyond, scoring victory points in progress.

Instead of being played on a map, First Class is a card game, which are used to depict not only all the stuff in the game, but player’s actions are also limited by the cards he holds. To add to longevity, different decks are available (two out of five are used at a time), offering several combination of challenges (catering to celebrities, solving a murder mystery etc.).

Main Features:

  • Light Orient Express themed card game.

Who should get it?

If you’re looking for a card game, based on trains, you don’t have many options. Luckily First Class: All Aboard the Orient Express! is easy to learn and accessible to everyone.

Click here to check out the price of First Class: All Aboard the Orient Express! on Amazon.


Russian Railroads

Link to BoardGameGeek page

Player count: 2-4 players.

Playing time: 90-120 minutes.

Complexity: medium, recommended to board gamers with some mileage.

Description:

Thematically, Russian Railroads is set in the late Tsarist empire. Players will build routes through Trans-Siberia, to Saint Petersburg or to Kiev and modernize them by improving their efficiency, machinery and staff.

If you ever played a worker-placement game before, you’ll feel right at home. Each turn, you’ll have a certain number of workers to place in slots and you will juggle between different options (constructing the three railroad lines, purchasing locomotives, recruiting new workers, establishing factories etc.), trying to maximize your workers and disrupting other players’ plans.

The game is quite successful and has received two expansions: German Railroads and American Railroads, which add new features and game mechanics.

Main Features:

  • Cool Tsarist-Russian theme.
  • Very good worker placement mechanics.

Who should get it?

I’d suggest this to anyone, looking for a train-themed worker-placement board game. It offers a fresh approach to trains, one without (directly) linking cities and building networks, delivering goods, but takes a cool Tsarist train theme and builds a great worker-placement game around it.

Click here to check out the prices for Russian Railroads on Amazon


Chicago Express

Link to BoardGameGeek page

Player count: 3-5 players

Playing time: 60 minutes

Complexity: medium

Description:

Chicago Express is a very focused game, thematically and in play-time. It revolves around eastern railroad companies, who try to be the first to reach Chicago. Players play as investors into these companies, pouring money into them and deciding how the companies will spend that cash.

Goal is not to reach Chicago, but to gain as much personal wealth. Invest wisely, manipulate the companies and other players and pay out dividends.

Bidding for shares (each company only has a limited number of them) is done through auctions and that money goes directly into company’s portfolio, available to be used for building. Undermining and deceiving other players is a viable tactic, so make sure you’re not offended easily.

Simple rules do not necessarily make a simple game and Chicago Express is a great example of how it can be more then just a sum of its parts. You may be just buying shares and building tracks, but in your head you’ll be thinking about much more than that.

It means anyone can easily learn Chicago Express, while also allowing deep strategies and mind games to develop.

Main Features:

  • Elegant share-driven game mechanics.
  • Simple rules, but still a lot of space for strategy.

Who should get it?

Chicago Express is suitable for anyone interested in board games, even good for families. Plays smoothly and games can be done in an hour.

Click here to check out the price for Chicago Express on Amazon


Irish Gauge

Link to BoardGameGeek page

Player count: 3-5 players

Playing time: 60 minutes

Complexity: medium

Description:

Irish Gauge is another board game out of Winsome Games, a small, specialist publisher of board games about railroads and trains (we have Railways of the World, Age of Steam and Chicago Express on our list too).

It’s not a huge surprise, that its also very similar in gameplay: you buy shares of one of five companies in auctions and those companies then build a rail system on a map of Ireland, paying out dividends based on their business success.

The trick is to buy shares and build tracks in a way, that will benefit your shares in companies and not other players, making money in the process. In the end, the richest player wins.

Irish Gauge is very similar to Chicago Express, but it stands out for its Irish theme, which is a rarity in train board games.

Main Features:

  • A rarely seen Irish themed train game.
  • Another one of those easy-to-learn, but hard-to-master games.

Who should get it?

Irish gauge is suitable for anyone interested in board games, especially if you’re looking for a fresh theme. Play is fast and games can be finished in under an hour.

Click here to check out the price for Irish Gauge on Amazon


Whistle Stop

Link to BoardGameGeek page

Player count: 2-5 players

Playing time: 75 minutes

Complexity: medium

Description:

Whistle Stop draw its theme from the completion of the first transcontinental railroad in 1869. You will control a railroad company, build routes, pick up cargo and deliver it to growing towns, create a network of tracks (or whistle stops, as the publisher calls it), trying to outgrow and outsmart your competition. It’s played on an abstracted (but cute) map, where hexagon grid is waiting to be filled with tracks, towns and goods.

As players move their trains west, they can choose where to deliver their picked-up goods. They can go for small towns to gain shares in railroads or wait for the bigger payout once they reach the cities on the west coast. And this race for the west coast is the fresh twist it brings to the table, as the player to get there first will enjoy big benefits (and usually win).

Main Features:

  • Takes usual train game features and adds a nice “race to the west coast” twist to them.
  • Relatively accessible, but still gives players a vast array of tactical options.

Who should get it?

Whistle Stop is a train game that uses well-tested game mechanics and tries to add its own flavor to them. It may not be directed for new players, but experienced board gamers will appreciate the gameplay options it offers.

Click here to check out the price of Whistle Stop on Amazon



Railways of the World Series

Games in series (BGG link):

  • Railways of the World (2009) includes Railways of the Eastern U.S. and Railways of Mexico
  • Railways of Nippon (2018) – alternative base game
  • Expansions add new maps (sometimes with extra gameplay features): Great Britain, Western U.S., North America, Portugal.

Player count: 3-6

Playing time: 2 hours

Complexity: medium

Description:

Originally released in 2005 as Railroad Tycoon, reworked and re-branded in 2009, Railways of the World would be best described as Steam series (see next entry) made for the mainstream public. It’s no surprise Martin Wallace is named among the designers.

Gameplay is somewhat similar: building tracks, linking cities, buying locomotives and hauling goods, while taking care of the economical side of your train company. You can get extra points for fulfilling objective cards (like making certain links or hauling certain goods to specific stations). They also offer other on-time bonuses like making tracks easier to build etc.

What makes this series special, is the beauty of the components. Engine placards, railroad tiles, train tokens, stations and towers are all plastic miniatures and look great, especially when they are arranged on the map. Rules are also revised once more, making the game easier to get into.

And when you have the base game (either of the two), the fun is only beginning: you can now easily enhance them. Often, you will be able to combine the maps of different editions into a much larger one. (Which is probably going to force you to play the game on the floor, unless you have a seriously large table.)

Main Features:

  • Streamlined “for-the-masses” version of Steam series.
  • Looks great.
  • Large family of expansions available.

Who should get it?

While not the most accessible, Railways of the World is an excellent mix of being easy-to-get-into and having an intricate economic system that caters to advanced players. It has a whole ecosystem of expansions around it, making it one of the most recommended railroad board game systems.

Click here to check out the price for Railways of the World on Amazon

 


Age of Steam and Steam: Rails to Riches

Link to BGG page for Age of Steam and Steam: Rails to Riches

Martin Wallace is an English game designer, known for his heavy-economy board games (maybe you’ve heard of Brass). Many of his games feature trains in different roles. Steam series is probably his most-known product, but train games like Volldampf (which is a predecessor to Age of Steam) and First Train to Nuremberg are also worth mentioning.

Player count: 3-5 seems to be the sweet spot.

Playing time: 2 hours.

Complexity: medium/high complexity, with a lot of intricate rules.

Description:

I’ve put two games here (but not for the price of one :)), since they are very similar in design, rules and gameplay. Age of Steam was released in 2002 and is “raw” idea of a game. Components are abstract and rules are overly complicated and fiddly.

But despite its shortcomings, its a good game. You’ll build tracks between cities (links) and then use those to transport goods, earning income. Tracks are built by placing tiles, creating a nice spagetti-looking landscape in the process.

Of course features like roles (special abilities that also determine turn order) and loans (that you have to pay back subsequent turns and can really come back to bite you) make sure you’ll have a lot of things to keep an eye out. As will other players, whose links you can also use, but they will also earn profit by doing this.

Age of Steam

Steam: Rails to Riches (from 2009) takes the aforementioned recipe, but it streamlines it. The board is now much more colorful, easier to read and game mechanics went through an overhaul, making them more intuitive and understandable.

It comes with two maps (northeastern USA and Rhine/Ruhr region), compared to the original one, but both games have a large set of expansions available, from official to fan-made maps and scenarios, to full official expansions like Steam Barons.

Other than that, gameplay wise, the differences are negligible. It plays the same and you’ll be hauling goods around and minding your income just like in Age of Steam.

Steam: Rails to Riches

Main Features:

  • Complicated strategy game, with a lot of moving parts.
  • A niche product for train and economy loving hardcore players.

Who should get it?

Steam series games are not something you bring out after family dinner. They are for true gamers, the one’s who study rule books as a means of entertainment; the one’s that make plans to hang out with other gamers for several hours with the intention of playing complicated board games. Those are the guys, that will enjoy Age of Steam or Steam: Rails to Riches.

As for which one to buy – I’d suggest getting the one you can get a better deal on.

Click here to check out the prices for both


18XX Series

Most notable games in series (Bgg Link):

  • 1830: Railways & Robber Barons
  • 1846: The Race for the Midwest
  • 1889: History of Shikoku Railways
  • 1856: Railroading in Upper Canada
  • 1870: Railroading across the Trans Mississippi
  • 1860: Railways on the Isle of Wight
  • 1862: Railway Mania in the Eastern Countries
  • 1849: The Game of Sicilian Railways
  • 1861: The Railways of the Russian Empire
  • 1880: China
  • 1825: The Railways of Great Britain
  • 1844: Switzerland

Player count: 3-6 players

Playing time: 3-6 hours

Complexity: high

Description:

18XX is another big train-themed franchise, going strong for decades and having dozens of games in its portfolio. This one turns the complexity level up a couple of notches and is definitely not for a casual player.

It focuses on stock-picking, portfolio management, financial prediction and stock market manipulation. The turns alternate between financial and operating rounds. In latter, the president will decide how the tracks will be build, what stations to create, buy trains, pay out dividends and manage the company.

These changes may increase revenues, which players will try to take advantage in the financial round, managing stocks. Winner is determined by wealth, so 18XX is capitalism at its finest. Or worst.

Main Features:

  • Ultimate heavy train themed board game franchise.
  • A lot of titles to choose from.

Who should get it?

18XX games are meant for players, who enjoy complicated financial machinations, based on train themes. It’s a very complicated game and also very long. It’s more of a stock-exchange simulator, than a train game.

1830: Railways & Robber Barons is the highest rated game of the 18XX series. Check out the price.


Conclusion

If after reading the list, you’re still unsure which games to buy (and who would blame you, as a lot of them are very similar), let’s quickly recap:

  • For a light family game, Ticket to Ride is essential. Colt Express is a nice alternative, if you’re more into robbing trains, than building tracks.
  • First Class and Russian Railroads stand out for their game mechanics – using cards and worker placement.
  • Chicago Express, Irish Gauge and Whistle Stop use common game mechanics: building tracks, buying shares, making money. Similar in mechanics, they differ thematically, so use choose based on that.
  • Using similar game mechanics, Railways of the World is a big franchise. If you get into that, you’ll have plenty of expansions to go about.
  • Finally, for the most advanced players, there are Steam series and 18XX series.

Personally, I think Ticket to Ride is a game everybody should have in his collection. I’d suggest going for the original, Ticket to Ride USA.

Click here to check out the price of Ticket to Ride USA on Amazon.

As for others on my list – they are good games, just be aware that further down the complexity line you, the more time and place consuming the games get. Owning a couple of Railways of the World or 18XX could be a whole sub-hobby in itself. Chicago Express, for example, lies nicely in the complexity sweet spot and I also like it thematically.

Further reading:

If you have any questions or comments, leave them below.

Vasilij

8 thoughts on “Best Train Board Games – Top 10”

  1. I own First Class: All Aboard the Orient Express and I have to say it’s an amazing board game. I haven’t played any of the other 9 but I trully recommend this one. It’s based on cards rather than a progression map which is great if you prefer to play that way. I have spent countless hours with my family playing this! Thanks for sharing this article, I will probably buy another one from the 9 I don’t have.

    Reply
  2. Wow! Thanks for this in-depth run-through of the top 10 train board games. Never really been into trains but love a good board game so to find your article has been a great joy. I never knew that there were so many games involving trains. I will certainly be looking at them more closely. Which one would you recommend for families to play with children about 8 years old?  

    Reply
    • Ticket to Ride is always a great way to enter board games. 8 year-olds will have no problems grasping its rules. Gameplay is fast, elegant and smooth.

      Fun fact: you can even play it against Amazon Alexa.

      Reply
  3. First of all thank you so much for sharing such a wonderful article with us. And I have a kid and I always collect the best train board games for him .I love to train, and my kids love trains .And I think trains are a very popular theme for toys and hobbies for my child .That’s why I collected  First Class: All Aboard the Orient Express   game in your article and I found it to be the best .This is the game I play with my child and we enjoy it very much .And I have benefited a lot from reading your article in more detail and I think it is easy to learn and accessible to everyone. 

    The best train board games given in your article are very interesting and I will be collecting another train board game later and I will definitely share with you my new experience. Also, I will definitely pass your article on to my friends and recommend them to buy a train board game.

    Reply
  4. Wow🤩! These games are intriguing. Especially that First Class: All Aboard the Orient Express’ which I like the most. It has a very fun card playing system and rules look easy. Orient Express theme is interesting.

    The urge to try out the game keeps coming 😂, I must try it out!

    Reply

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