In general, I’m not a fan of free-to-play games that ask you to buy “currency” to unlock things in the game. I’d much rather see higher prices and get a complete game, but as with everything, there is a balance and Pocket Trains seems to hit that zone.
Pocket Trains is the latest from NimbleBit, the people that made Tiny Tower and other pixelated games. I remember playing Tiny Tower for about a week before I realized that managing a condo just wasn’t that much fun. The gameplay was good and the art was fun but after a while it all just seemed like a mundane chore. You could say that Pocket Trains is the same thing, and it is, but in this case the theme makes a big difference. I mean, it’s trains!
I’m a sucker for trains. I grew up with model trains and just otherwise find trains rather fascinating. However, it’s not the actual trains that I find interesting but the management of them. Time tables, stops, speeds, cargo…that type of micromanagement is just my type of thing and Pocket Trains lets me worry about those things happily.
Pocket Trains isn’t really a time management game in that you have to worry about time, per se, but you do have to worry about logistics. You start the game in Europe and you get to (rather quickly) build your train empire by extending train lines from one end of the continent to the other. The end goal is to expand your railroad across the entire world, and to do that you need sweet, sweet cash. Like other Nimblet games, you have coins and bills to worry about. Coins is your “quick” currency while bills are used for bigger upgrades.
To get money you need deliver cargo from city to city as quickly as possible. The real challenge comes in the form of limited capacity for your trains. Basic trains can only haul 8 cars so you have to decide which cargo is most valuable in terms of distance and time to destination. As you would expect, your train needs fuel and maintenance to keep running so sending you one train on a 500-mile journey just won’t get you much.
As you expand your railroad you have to start shifting priorities and keep track of which routes yield the most goods and adjust. If the Red train only goes north/south and the Blue train goes east/west with a shared train station in the middle, you’ll need to use it as a transfer station. You do this a lot in the game and becomes quite the pain point, albeit a good pain point. I’ve found myself evaluating and entire train’s trip in attempt to get the most coinage in the shortest distance.
Hurry up and wait
If the promise of having a railroad empire and worrying about logistics excites you, then Pocket Trains is a definite win. If you don’t like trains, then you probably won’t see the fun because this game does boil down to a few clicks before you have to wait between turns. The trains run in “real time” so when you send the train from London to Moscow, it could be a 5-minute trip…meaning a 5-minute wait time before your next action. There will be points when all your trains are en route for 2-minutes or more leaving you with little to do. If there’s any criticism with this game the lack of things to do in that wait period would be it. Yeah, you can check your map and plan expansion but that’s not something you’re going to do every turn. There’s just not much to do other than load up your train and send it on its way.
While I’d love for there to be just a little bit more to worry about in Pocket Trains, it’s focus is also what makes it such a good game. This game is about trains. Period. This game isn’t about the people on the train or even the cargo on the train. It’s all about planning routes and considering the trade-offs. I’ve been playing this game solid for the past few days and I’m still having fun. It’s hard for me to say at this point if the fun will continue after a week but I’m hopeful.
So far I haven’t needed to make any in-game purchases but I’m sensing I’ll reach that wall very soon when your need to expand will outpace your coin earning. That’s usually the point where I stop playing but I might just drop a buck or two on this game simply because I like the theme. If the in-game purchasing doesn’t stop you, I figure there will be point where your empire is so big that you just won’t be able to keep up. Right now I only have a handful of trains so it’s easy to remember which trains go where but once I add a few more to the mix that’s going to get complicated. The game’s fun might be its undoing in the long run.
Pocket Trains is a very polished game, as we’ve come to expect from NimbleBit. The fun and charm of the pixel art is all there plus the added bonus of trains. Gameplay is easy and fast without a lot of options or settings to worry about. Lack of other things to do while your trains are traveling is the only downside…well, that and in-game purchases, but otherwise Pocket Trains is well worth the price of free.