As much as we seem to primarily enjoy the big, complex strategy games with lots of wooden pieces and different paths to victory, there's always room for simpler, quaint little games that just seem to nicely round out the collection.
Yardmaster is a good example of one such game that I picked up because of a general appreciation for trains and not much else. Plus a card game that can support up to 5 players can also come in pretty handy during a big enough game night.
That game offers a good amount of fun given a pretty simple game design. And the art in itself is rather lovely, if a bit repetitive given the way the cards came out, But more on that in the full review.
Yardmaster is a card game created by Steven Aramini. The game began as a Kickstarter project that has now seen a regular retail release. The game supports 2-5 players.
The goal of the game is to score a target number of points (depending on total players) by "loading" your train with cargo and getting them all connected. In game, this means using Cargo cards to "buy" railcars and ensure they follow the linking rules for your train.
In a turn a player can perform up to two actions given three options. First, they can draw either the top card of the Cargo deck or take the face-up Cargo card in the Cargo discard pile, as long as it is not a special Bonus Card. Second, they can discard Cargo cards matching the color and value of a railcar that is available for loading in the center of the table. Third, they can swap their exchange token for any other exchange token, including those held by other players.
Exchange tokens given players a 2:1 trade bonus for goods in order to make the most of the cards you have to purchase a car sooner. There is also the role of the Yardmaster that goes around the table that gives the player the option to play a third action for that turn. Then there are Bonus Action cards with different effects that can be triggered during your turn, as long as you are not playing this Bonus Action after you played your second Action for the turn.
The real trick here is that the train itself follows a linking rule similar to Uno. A railcar must match the prior car attached to the engine either based on having the same color or number as the last card. You are free to buy cards that cannot connect to your train. However the moment you are able to legally match them, they automatically connect as a free action. Once a railcar is connected to the active train, then the points are considered scored and you're another step closer to winning the game.
That is simple yet pretty interesting and makes for decent play. A lot of times it feels almost like a weird round of Go Fish with all the players aggressively drawing cards, hoping to have enough to buy one of the railcars up for grabs. Bonus Action cards do help things move along a little faster, but the way that the railcars come up can severely affect how fast or slow a game can go. There's not much player-versus-player actions here apart from swapping exchange tokens with other players, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. It's sort of like how Suburbia plays out.
I generally love the art style, but I wish that they had made little variations in the card types. I suppose there's not much to be done with the Cargo cards - they're pretty straight forward. But the railcar cards could have been a bit more dynamic, even if they all reflect a particular cargo type. For example, an oil taker car can look like different styles but still have the same system effect as being yellow or something. I know this drives up production costs, but it wouldn't be too bad a thing, right?
Yardmaster is a nice little bridge game to play between rounds of heavier games. I just need to warn you that it does quire a fair amount of table space given your trains can get a little long once you're all hovering close to the point total goal. The game itself rates a respectable 3.5 clever little train cars out of a possible 5.