I finally got a chance to get my hands on a copy of String Railway last month, and have played it a whole bunch. This is going to be a pretty short review- I love String Railway. I think it’s one of the more interesting games that I’ve played in a long time, for a variety of reasons, most of which have to do with how the game deals with our expectations of what should come inside of one of these board game boxes. For its relative simplicity, it takes a while for people to catch on, which is, I think, a great selling feature of the game.
What comes in the box? String! Lots of string, some squares that represent railways and some tokens that represent points. That’s it. The box is rectangular, and is very small. There’s no wasted space in the box, which gets massive points from me. For too long now, I’ve been looking at my collection, looking at my available space, and saying that I need to downsize. Let’s be honest- there’s no reason why the Settlers of Catan should come in as giant a box as it does. There’s a lot of wasted space in that box. While I appreciate the desire to have a box inlay do the heavy lifting regarding organization of a game, that organization is REALLY only useful for the moments just after opening the box and before playing. Think about it- that organization is not useful if you’re not actually about to play the game. For the most part, that organization comes at the price of shelf space. When one takes out these box inlays, puts the components into plastic bags and just throw the bags into the boxes, you’ll find that there’s TONS of empty space. I suppose that’s why there are blogs dedicated to downsizing gaming space, but I’d appreciate it if companies would do the work on their end. An especially egregious recent example is the box for Star Wars: Armada. Seriously, this box is almost false advertising for the amount of stuff within.
String Railway’s box is economical. There is just enough space for the contents, and nothing else. There’s very little dead air within, which is a good thing for those of us living the dream in small, rented apartments in the middle of the city.
Moving on, String Railway does away with pre-set boards. Fantastic. One of the things I love the most about miniature games is that the playing surface is modular. You can move around terrain, hills, trees, fortifications, all of it can be changed. String Railway takes the modularity of recent board games and goes one step further and says that if you want a really hard game, arrange the board however you would like- and this is great for player interactivity. Furthermore, if you create something that is completely unplayable, don’t worry- it’ll be over really soon! The fact that no two games of String Railway are ever the same is not only good for replayability, but also for emergent game narratives- as you create the board, put down stations, put down railways, you’ll see connections emerge, networks form and can imagine entire cities being created. Your imagination can run wild playing String Railway!
Gameplay? It’s super easy! Draw a station, put the station down anywhere, and connect a railway from a station you already have a railway at. Done. That’s how you play String Railway. There are points, and controls and limits and different things that the stations do, but that’s it in a nutshell. It’s very easy to get a game to the table when you tell everyone that the game will be over in about 30 minutes, and you can explain it in a minute. It’s a fantastic game for the end of the night, where you have time and will for one more game, but don’t want to spend 2 hours at it.
If all this seems like something that your gaming group would be interested in, just go and get the game. It costs about $20.00, is colourful and easy. The only criticism I have of the game is that it’s probably a tad too random, which will probably limit its replayability in the long term. It’s also hard to interact with the board without knocking strings around, so if you’re a bit on the anal side about it, it’ll give you no end of grief. If, however, you want a casual game, that is really interesting, fun and dynamic, and is unlike anything you’ve ever played before, String Railway is a game that I highly recommend.