Nestled between hills and blanketed with beautiful fields of grass, where cows grazed happily, our village was in the perfect place. Country life was slow and relaxed, because nobody had anywhere urgent to get to. However, that was all going to change soon. Metal tracks were soon going to crisscross between hills and along rivers. They would connect our sleepy corner of the world. They were the Village Rails by Matthew Dunstan and Brett J. Gilbert from Osprey Games.
So there we are. It's time for you to don your top hat and play the industrialist with their highfalutin ideas and grand plans of railways connecting every tiny village and hamlet, whether they like it or not. After all, the march of progress is unavoidable. Industry needs infrastructure, so you might as well join and see if you can't make a few bucks and score a lot of points.
Build Your Own Village Rails
Let's take a step back though and look at what Village Rails is all about. At the core, it's a tile-laying game, not much different to something like Carcassonne. The difference is, everyone places tiles into their own little 3x4 grid. There is no blocking of roads, let alone any risk of placing farmers. No, it's all quite civilized indeed.
Over 12 rounds, every player will have created seven separate lines. On your turn, you take a track card and place it somewhere in your grid, adjoining either an edge or an already placed card. Every card has two tracks on them, which either cross over each other by means of a bridge or which miss each other as they both veer off at a right angle. So there is never any risk that you can paint yourself into a corner. You will always be able to place a card and by the end of the 12 rounds, you will definitely have completed all of your seven lines.
The game is much more about getting the perfect card to score the most points. Each card represents one of five different terrain types and the two tracks on each card can have up to one icon on them, which are to do with scoring. So when you complete a line, you run along the track and score each icon in turn. There are four icons that score immediately, while one is scored at the end of the game. For example, tractors score one point per different terrain type on the line and barns score a point for a specific type of terrain on the line. I think you get the idea.
As you can see, you already have contradicting point-scoring potentials. A line with tractors needs to have lots of different terrain types on it to score lots of points, while barns want the line to mostly consist of the same type. You can imagine the amount of analysis paralysis setting in at this stage. Choosing card A will add another tractor to the line, but the feature of that card is the same as others already there. Card B has a barn on it, but the line has too many different types of features, so won't score very high. It's a real pickle. The situation gets worse, because every card you place will contribute to two different lines. So if card A is perfect for line A, it might really mess things up for line B. The level of analysis paralysis goes up another notch.
It doesn't end there though. You can score even more for each line, if you buy the right trip card. However, ensuring that the icons on the line, the trip card and everything else works out perfectly for the most points will send your analysis paralysis through the roof. It's no surprise that players may freeze and be unable to make any decision at all.
The best way to play Village Rails is by using your gut. At least for the first game or two. Once you have played it a few times, you start to see that the game is actually trying to guide you a little. The scoring opportunities become a bit more apparent and things start to slot into place. You'll soon start to make decisions that are intentional and considered and don't just come from your gut.
I would say that Village Rails gets better the more you play it. It begins as an analysis paralysis minefield of contradicting scoring goals, then turns into a game where instinct and analytic thinking start to work together until it eventually becomes a game of cut-throat hate drafting and money hoarding.
Yes, as idyllic as it sounds, Village Rails can actually be REALLY cutthroat. If you watch what track or trip card other players need, you can buy them and add them to your own village rail network. It'll really mess them up while probably still giving you a useful point boost. So if you're playing with competitive players, watch them tear each other apart.
Saying that, you can continue to enjoy the fresh air and the green fields, if you aren't part of a competitive group of players. Village Rails will continue to be fun and relaxing if you all just want to build a beautiful network and focus on your own thing. It can remain a proper multiplayer solitaire game - which is weird. I've not really come across another game that can be so cut-throat while also allowing for a completely solitaire experience as well. I suppose that's a good thing. It means different groups of people will enjoy it for different reasons.
At the end of the day though, if you like a card-laying game with an element of route building that will squeeze your brain and that seemingly presents you with impossible decisions and hopeless situations, then Village Rails is definitely for you. At the same time, if you just want to put down some cards to build some lovely railway tracks and don't much care about the score at the end, then Village Rails is just as much for you too.