I brought up Train Valley as one of the titles I bought during the Steam Winter Sale. It wasn’t quite what I expected it to be… but you never know what a game really is until you start playing it. I am not sure exactly what I expected, something more free-form or open world, like a Minecraft rail mod, or maybe a more hands on Ticket to Ride.
Train Valley is not either of those. Still, it looked to be a fun little game so I played on to see what it offered. It seemed simple enough, you just build tracks between stations and then send trains back and forth.
Each level starts with a couple of stations and more get added as the level goes along. Trains then appear at each station and you click on them to start them off and then make sure they arrive at their destination. Piece of cake.
You play through various scenarios, which are akin to levels, as you need to succeed on one in order to advance to the next. The scenarios are divided into various geographical areas, starting with small European countries, then the United States, then Russia/USSR, then Japan, and finally Germany. Germany is actually a DLC addition, but I bought the whole Train Valley package, including all the DLC which included Germany and the soundtrack.
There is a postage stamp theme to the scenarios and they each have some bonus goals, called “Advanced Objectives” associated with them. For each goal you manage you get a cancellation stamp on the level. I would guess that there is a range of about 20 standard goals which get re-used in different combos throughout the scenarios.
Those goals do not actually enter into your ability to successfully complete a scenario. They just add up for achievements and provide a bit of extra challenge. The final round in each region doesn’t even have extra goals. In fact, you can do all sorts of things wrong… crash trains, send them to the wrong station, lay out your track badly… and still complete a round.
The gating item in each scenario is money, something I didn’t fully grasp until I was into the series of US levels. (And yes, I am using “levels,” “rounds,” and “scenarios” interchangeably, deal.) There I actually started running out of money, at which point you are declared “bankrupt” and the round ends.
Laying track costs money. Removing structures that may be in the way of where you want your track to go costs money. And then there is a tax on your rails that you pay at intervals which takes money out of your budget. So there is a constant drain on your cash.
To earn money you have to get trains to their destination. The sooner they roll out and the sooner the arrive, the more money you get. You can even call for “extra” trains. (One of the standard bonus objectives is to have 5-10 additional trains run during the level.)
Levels start out with just one train and a station or three, but then things heat up and soon you have trains waiting to go and more stations to hook up and you have to consider how to lay things out so that a train from any given station can get to any other station. And if a train waits in the station too long, it will eventually just go, rolling out onto the rail line and mucking up whatever you might be trying to do.
You can see on the level in the screen shot above that there is a tunnel. That is an added complication that rolls a train at you every so often. More complications. And when trains crash, that costs money too. There is a loss for the train, the need to clear away the damage, and the building of new track.
I started going bankrupt occasionally on the US levels until I started paying closer attention to my budget. It wasn’t until the Russia/USSR levels that this became critical. At the “Iron Curtain” level the initial stations are far enough apart that you have to thread exactly the right path or go bankrupt immediately. Again, more attention to budget and pathing required.
Still, I made it through that and into the Japan levels, which were the original end game. Here is where I started having to take a few swings at the ball in order to finish a level. The Sapporo level took me more than a few tries as it is a tight layout and throws trains at you from off map… fast trains… fairly often. Still, I managed it. I didn’t get any of the bonus objectives, but I made it without going bankrupt.
Then I arrived in Tokyo, the penultimate of the Japanese levels. The trains are long and fast and show up at a rapid pace once the level started moving, you end up with a lot of stations, space on the ground is tight, and to get the layout you need you have to destroy some expensive buildings.
You end up with a fairly generous starting bank account, but having that first train show up wanting to get between two difficult stations can strain your budget almost immediately. In the screen shot above I am blowing almost half my initial capital for the first stretch of rail, and I still have four stations unconnected.
I tend to start off okay… if I get a good first train or two I can often add a couple of extras just for a bit more cash… but eventually I hit a point where things begin to spin out of control.
In that screen shot the train in the upper right is going to leave the station, ready or not, two trains have collided at the green station, I haven’t finished repairing after the collision at the purple station, the red station isn’t even hooked up yet, and every station has a train ready to go. And, as I noted, the trains are long, the freight trains are fast, and the passenger trains are faster. I forget to set one switch correctly on the tracks and it is like an air traffic controller mistake and everything is going to end in disaster. I go bankrupt… or quit when I know that is headed my way… every time. I’ve had the rails full of stopped trains, another train threatening to go in a couple seconds, the game paused, and no solution in sight more than a few times.
But I persist. Somebody even put together a page of rail layouts that seem to work… I searched for that after a lot of runs at Tokyo… which I am not miles away from on this level, but you need to earn cash to tear down buildings to get it just right, and even then it is a near run thing. This is the twitch reaction level for the game so far. I not only need to get the rails laid right, but I need to keep the switches set and the trains going in the right direction… and forget about the bonus objectives.
I haven’t even seen ze German layouts yet. Not bad for a $3.39 investment. I have gotten my money’s worth in play time out of it, and I still sit down every night and take a few runs at Tokyo. I’ve just got to make fewer mistakes to best it.