Game Review – Whistle Stop

IMG_4862

All aboard the Whistle Stop Express! Pick up shipments from the East Coast and deliver across the ever-expanding railroad system in Bezier Games’ latest pick-up and deliver game, Whistle Stop. Will you choose to race across the entire country to be the first one to get all of your trains to the west coast or will you take your time and deliver goods to multiple towns?

Designer: Scott Caputo
Artist: Jason Boles & Stephanie Gustafsson
Publisher: 
Bezier Games
Genre: Pick Up and Deliver
Players: 2-5
Play Time: 90 to 120 minutes
Number of Logged Plays: 4

Buy it on Amazon via He said, She Said Games

Skip ahead to find out:
Game Overview
Game Play
What He Said
What She Said
Our Pros and Cons
The Verdict

Game Overview

IMG_4681In Whistle Stop, players will become railroad companies taking advantage of the rapid expansion of railways across the country. Starting from the East Coast, players will build routes for trains to travel through, pick up cargo, deliver the cargo to cities, and develop upgrades for the trains. The supplies won’t be given away for free though as each city will reward players with railroad shares benefiting the majority shareholder of that company with reputation at the end of the game. Players will also gain reputation from deliveries and for making it all the way to the West Coast to one of the eight final destination cities. The railroad company with the best reputation at the end of the game is the winner.

Game Play

IMG_4889At the beginning of the game, there will be three columns of the board that will be randomly created with specific sets of tiles. Eight of the final destination tiles will be used per game and there will always be a coal yard, trading post, two town tiles, and one other special tile in the center column of the board. Lastly, the tiles along the East Coast will all be randomly generated from the pool of train route tiles. This will ensure that no two games will ever be exactly the same. The number of rounds will be determined by the number of players, with lower player counts increasing the number of rounds.

IMG_4623Once the board is setup, players take turns choosing starting locations for their trains. Train placement will take place in a counter-clockwise order starting with the player to the right of the first player. Only one train can be placed per turn and will continue until all players have placed their trains. Each starting location can only be occupied by one train. The game is now ready to begin!

Each round, all players receive resources from the turn track. This will keep track of the current round and indicates how many rounds are left in the game. During a turn, players will have the following options:

Spend up to four tokens (coal or whistles) to move your trains

  • IMG_4628When using coal token to move a train, it can move along the track to the left (new column) or up/down within the same column. Movement of the train will continue until the train reaches a stop. Trains are not allowed to move to a stop located in a previous column (right).  Lastly, there cannot be more than one train on most stops, but players are allowed to move through these stops if one of their own trains occupy it.
  • When using a whistle token to move a train, it can move up to two stops in any direction (including stops in previous columns). Whistles also allow players to pass through stops that are occupied by other player’s trains. Any stops that are skipped over, will not reward any resources, tokens, or effects (players only gain the benefits of the stops they land on).
  • If movement sends your train to an empty space, you can play a tile from your hand to fill the space and continue moving. If the new tile doesn’t cause your train to hit a stop, another tile can be played. If the second tile doesn’t provide a stop for your train, the last tile from your hand will be played that must have a stop for your train.

Spend resources to gain up to two upgrades

  • Upgrades will reward players with reputation points and special actions they can spend their coal on. Players can utilize these special actions as many times as they want, but only up to four tokens can be used per round.

These actions can be performed in any order. If a player decides to not move any of their trains, they will gain one whistle for that round. They may still use the upgrade action if they’d like.

IMG_4886The last round of the game will commence once a player gets their last train off the board or if there are no resources left on the turn track. Players will score reputation points for being the majority shareholder for each of the five stocks, upgrades, gold tokens, unspent resources,  and coal/whistle tokens. If a player has a special tile left in their hand, they will lose 10 points for each one. The player with the highest reputation is declared the best railroad company!

He Said

IMG_4904Whistle Stop was one of the games that we had our eye on at Gen Con, but didn’t get a chance to actually pick up. It received a lot of buzz before the convention with its bright colorful board and accessible gameplay, and we weren’t disappointed when we finally received our copy at the end of September. The pastel colors of the trains and the view of a fully-built railway system makes the game pop on the table.

Bull Market
Whistle Stop has a lot of different strategies that you can try out as you travel from the East Coast to the West Coast with your fleet of trains. After four games, I found that stocks should be the top priority because they give you so many points at the end of the game if you have the majority or lowest number in a tie. I kind of have mixed feelings on the way scoring is done with the stocks because it makes sense that the person who has the majority of one stock gets rewarded handsomely, but if you’re tied or come in second you don’t get anything at the end of the game.

It made it hard to want to invest in a stock if someone else claimed the #1 share unless you wanted to go all out on getting shares of that stock. This may play out differently in a four or five player game because a number of stocks being bought will be a lot higher, but it could also just make the #1 stock that much stronger. Of course, it’s a moot point if everyone just chose a different company and got the majority. I think getting some points for second place would give players more incentive to fight over the stock of a company or having players split the points if they’re tied.

IMG_4885It Takes Two
Most of our plays have been with two players and its been really enjoyable at that player count with quick turns and more control over how the map is built. You’ll get to utilize all five of your trains, which can allow you to set up some strong combos. The game progresses a lot quicker too and it almost doesn’t feel like there’s enough time to do everything you want, despite there being an additional round in the game. This creates a steadily growing tension throughout the game as you try to figure out how to get all your trains to a final destination tile before the end of the game. The tension does result in a little analysis paralysis because the moves feel more critical near the end of the game, especially because you want to position your trains to get to the end while also picking up as many resources and stocks as you can.

Our three-player game felt pretty different from our two-player games, with the board filling up a lot quicker and there being more potential for getting blocked by other players. It becomes even more of a race to be the first person to claim the first stock in companies because you’ll have more people wanting to claim shares. I can see a four- or five-player game getting really busy on the board with everyone attempting to lay down tiles in ways that benefits their trains the most.

IMG_4635All Aboard!
One of my favorite things about Whistle Stop is how different every game can feel based on the randomized setup at the start of the game. Coal is a lot easier to come by if the second Coal Yard gets placed earlier in the game so players don’t have to travel all the way to the middle column to start producing more coal. Rare resources can be harder to come by in a game if the starting tiles don’t have many of them. This can make some stocks harder to obtain and create prime blocking opportunities. With all of those variables, Whistle Stop has very high replayability. The setup time does take a little bit though because of all the tile shuffling and initial placement of the tiles.

With a limit of four movement actions per turn, you’ll have to figure out the best way to utilize your trains. I found that it was always important to have a “resource” train that you could use every turn to collect from the Coal Yard or use it to visit the Trading Post or General Store. It’s really easy to run out of coal so you’ll want to make sure you have a reliable source of it coming in so you can take full advantage of the four-movement action limit. In the first couple games, I had a good amount of turns where I was only able to move twice because all I had was the coal you get at the beginning of the round. So you’ll want to optimize your turns and try to use up all your movement actions every turn. If you aren’t moving, you aren’t gaining any tokens or resources.

This is easier said than done though because you’ll only get two coal at the beginning of every round. Two coal isn’t a whole lot to work with and you’ll be forced to figure out what your priorities are. I enjoyed bouncing between the general store and trading post to gather more coal and acquiring resources that weren’t readily available to me.

IMG_4903Final Thoughts
Overall, I really enjoyed our plays of Whistle Stop especially at the two-player count. The game lasts just the right amount of time and keeps you engaged and thinking about your next turn throughout the whole game. It’s pretty satisfying to lay down tiles to build up the railway system and figure out the best way to spend your precious movement points. I think we’ll need to play a couple more times for me to figure out if the stock market strategy is the strongest one, but from our four plays, it feels like you can get a whole lot of points for not a whole lot of effort. I’m hoping we can get a couple plays in at the four- and five-player counts to see how that changes things as well.

I’d recommend this game to anyone looking to try out a light/medium weight train game that’s easy to learn and plays quickly. There’s a good amount of things going on in the game, but its all pretty intuitive and makes sense thematically. I think the artwork will draw people in as well with pastel-colored trains and bright-colored train tiles and board. The board at the end of the game is just nice to look at as all of the tiles fit snugly together. I’m glad we ended up getting a copy of this even though we missed it at Gen Con.

She Said

IMG_4895In the board game world, it could be argued that using a train theme is very overdone. And with the copious amount of train games like Ticket to Ride, Trains, and Colt Express  (to name a few) out there, it’s easy to see why. However, the latest train game from Bezier Games, Whistle Stop, breaks through this barrier and is quickly becoming one of my favorites of 2017 with it’s unique take on the train theme and easy-to-understand gameplay.

IMG_4894Pick-Up and Deliver
I love the pick-up and deliver mechanism in games. We don’t play them too often because they don’t stand out as much as other types of games. And they can often get dull very fast. If not done well, it can be hard to keep my interest for long, but Whistle Stop is the perfect length and effectively implements pick-up and deliver methods for an enjoyable game. Most games we played lasted about an hour and there was an interesting amount of tension due to the limited number of rounds per game. It’s stressful, but just the right amount of stress needed to keep a game interesting.

In addition to enjoying the pick-up and deliver mechanism, my absolute favorite type of games are ones that incorporate real-world elements into the theme. Though this game does have a real-world theme, I wouldn’t say it has an incredibly strong theme. For example,  the resource cubes have no connection to the theme. We simply called them the “red cubes” or “brown cubes.” And using whistles to move makes little sense thematically because a whistle won’t power a train.

Despite these few unthematic elements, the game does tie back to the theme with the adorable train pieces, use of coal to move, and the process of collecting cargo as you go and dropping it off to put your train in a train yard. Normally, so many holes in a theme would bother me, but it doesn’t with Whistle Stop  because there are so many other things that this game does well that make up for it.

IMG_4634It’s a Good Strategery
Because you are doing such simple actions each turn (moving your trains across the board using coal/whistles and collecting resources), Whistle Stop is very easy to understand how to play. What makes the game interesting is the number of strategies you can implement. In each game we played, I implemented a different strategy and still think there are a number of other ones I could move forward within future games.

There were a few times where I suffered a bit from analysis paralysis because there are so many different routes to take. You could go all in on moving trains across the board, or you could invest all in stocks, or you could do a combination of many different things. When you throw in things like the Gold Mine, upgrades, and other elements, it can be somewhat overwhelming when you first play.

I sometimes found it a bit hard to determine exactly what resources I needed to collect because my strategy would change a bit depending on what tiles I end up with to fill out the board. If I end up with too many town tiles, it makes more sense to spend resources to collect stocks. But you also need to balance getting your trains across because the bonuses you get from delivering your goods can be beneficial. This is often where analysis paralysis would come into play.

Despite the sheer number of ways to gain points, Whistle Stop is an interesting balance act between strategies. I’m sure you could go all in on one particular strategy if you wanted, but I found it not as effective. In one game, I went all in on getting my trains across the board and collecting the 25 point bonus each time. I ended up losing to someone who balanced between stock and getting trains across. Although the stocks are definitely a good strategy to take, I don’t feel like it’s effective to go all in on and not work on getting at least a few trains across the board. If you were to invest in all stocks, it’d make sense to get your train across and take the stock bonus. This has just been our experience while playing though.

IMG_4863Please, Sir, Can I Have Some More?
My one challenge with the game is that it’s a bit hard to get coal and whistles in order to take actions. There is often only one Coal Yard so it requires you to keep one train stationed permanently near the Coal Yard in order to have enough to take actions. I understand that this element adds more tension to the game and makes it more challenge, but I’d argue it makes it too challenging at times.

I would often get frustrated when I could only take a few actions because I only received two coal at the start of a round. I think there are ways that the game could aid in providing more coal to players. One way could be to provide more coal at the start of each round. But this could result in the game being too easy and then make coal not as valuable of a resource. Another way could be to always have at least two Coal Yards in play. We often found that the second Coal Yard would not come out until the end of the game and then it was not useful. I suppose this could be solved by putting Coal Yards and Whistle Factories strategically in the stack rather than randomly.

IMG_4899Final Thoughts
Although it could be argued that the board game world really doesn’t need yet another train game, Whistle Stop manages to combine my two favorite game elements and take a unique take on an arguably overused theme. The game plays quick and provides a very enjoyable experience.

In addition to the great gameplay, I LOVE the colors used in Whistle Stop. So often you see primary colors used in board games, and I love that the designer thought to use pastels instead. It takes an already unique game and makes it even more creative and visually appealing. Overall, I really enjoyed Whistle Stop, and would highly recommend it to anyone looking for a great pick-up and deliver game. Actually, I’d recommend it for anyone looking for a wonderfully unique and fun game to add to their collection.

Pros and Cons

Pros:
– Easy to learn and teach
– Simple gameplay
– Game time is a good length
– Great use of colors and artwork (although could be tough if you’re color blind)
– Quality components
– Great replayability with modular board
– Lots of variety in strategy
– Plays great at all player counts (more players will obviously extend time)

Cons:
– Can be overly difficult to collect coal
– Long setup and take down time
– Train movement limitations can be a bit confusing

The Verdict

He gives this game out of 8.5 Whistles out of 10.

She gives this game 9 Coal Yards out of 10.

Buy it on Amazon via He said, She Said Games

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s