|Cost: $21.95 From: Mayfair Games: 1-800-432-4376 Players: 2-5 Playing Time: 60 minutes Type of game: family strategy Complexity: 4 Skill level: 6 Reviewed by: Peter Sarrett, Issue 4.2, Summer 1996|
I first played Linie 1 at the 1995 Gathering of Friends. I loved the first part of the game in which players played tiles to create a trolley track, but loathed the racing finale in which die rolling eradicated the careful strategy that had come before. It seemed like the game could be fixed, but I never heard any suggestions.
Now Mayfair has published the game in America as Streetcar, and they've reverted to the designer's original rules. It seems that Gold Sieber, publisher of the German game, felt the designer's original racing rules weren't right for the family audience and replaced them with the dreaded die. Mayfair preferred it the designer's way. To be honest, I'm not entirely certain it's an improvement.
The game board depicts a large grid representing the streets of New Orleans, with some squares filled with lettered photographs of city landmarks. Six pairs of trolley terminals line the outskirts of the board. To start the game, players are secretly assigned a trolley number and a route consisting of 2 (standard game) or 3 (harder game) landmarks. To win the game, players must be the first to run their trolley from one of their terminals to the other, stopping at each of their assigned landmarks along the way.
The city begins without any tracks for the streetcars to run on. Players build track by playing square tiles onto the grid. Track can be laid anywhere (it doesn't have to be connected to existing track). When the first track segment is laid next to one of the landmarks, a stop sign is placed on that segment. Anyone who needs to visit that landmark as part of their route will need to drive by that stop sign. Additionally, whenever a trolley reaches a stop sign it must stop. This combination of rules accounts for a great deal of the strategy of the game (and a lot of convoluted track!) as players try to establish stops in easy-to-reach locations for the landmarks on their routes, and out-of-the-way places which won't slow their trolleys down for other locations.
Besides the basic straight and curve tracks, there are many more complicated track pieces. These can be played normally, or they can replace existing trackó as long as they preserve the old routes. Essentially, you can upgrade but you can't reroute. And believe me, you'll need to upgrade. As other players try to complete their routes, they'll divert track in directions which are counter to your goals.
The luck of the draw does play an important role, as each player has a (visible) hand of only five tiles to choose from. If you don't get the tiles you need, you could definitely be in trouble. For that reason, players should play basic track whenever possible and hold onto upgrades until they're absolutely necessary. There are often a number of different, incompatible upgrades possible for a given tile, however, and if you don't upgrade to the one you want, an opponent might place a less desirable one instead.
Once a player's route is completed he may begin running his trolley. He may, however, delay his race and continue playing tiles to improve his route. Once a player begins his run, he may no longer play tiles.
A player is entitled to move his trolley forward up to one space more than the previous player moved his trolley forward. For example, if player A moves three spaces, player B can move up to four. If player B only moves one space, player C can move up to two. This is the designer's original movement rule which Mayfair has restored, allowing for strategy during the race. All players must stop at every stop sign along their route, so planning ahead for maximal use of available movement pays off. The first player to complete his route and arrive at his end terminal is the winner.
The race portion of the game may be more strategic than in the German edition, but it's still anti-climacticó the real fun is in the track laying phase. I'm not sure I can explain why, eitheró all I know is that when I'm done, I usually want to play again immediately. It's just fun. Maybe it's the satisfaction of creating a streamlined route, or salvaging a seemingly hopeless situation.
There's a constant choice between optimizing your own route and frustrating opponents' efforts. Sometimes the two are one and the same, but often it's a tough choice. The frustration caused by having your plans dashed leads me to focus on my own route first, but the system allows for success either way. The first player to start the race is certainly not guaranteed a win, and taking an extra turn or two to optimize is often well worth it.
Calling this a train game is a bit of a stretch. It does deal with track-laying and racing, but doesn't feel like other train games. For one thing, Streetcar should appeal to the family audience as well as serious gamersó when's the last time you got your mom to play 1830?