Train sets are a toy of the past. But computer gaming has kept the tradition alive, in titles ranging from the original Railroad Tycoon to the iPhone’s Trainyard, which we recently reviewed. Now Facebook is getting its very own social take on the genre with Lucky Train, the first title from new developer A Bit Lucky.
From a first glance at the opening screen, Lucky Train looks like it might dive into a Miyazaki-style animated world. And indeed, there are overtones of that filmmaker’s typical settings, as you start out in a vaguely modern-looking village which is, nevertheless, about to receive an old steam train, an event begun by clicking a blinking rail crossing signal on the lower right hand corner of the screen.
This steam train — along with its more modern permutations — is the center of the Lucky Train world. A few homes are scattered around your starting village; over time, these will be replaced by larger homes, apartments, diners, banks, baseball diamonds and other structures. But aside from decoration, these serve only one purpose: to fill the all-important train with a variety of passengers.
After you fill up the train by clicking on your buildings to send over the passengers, it’s time to send the train off to its destination. And this, in turn, is where the most important mechanic of Lucky Train takes place: once the train leaves your town, it will begin making its way through your personal network.
In fact, the trains in Lucky Train can only leave if they have a destination, and at the moment, the only possible destination is a friend. Lucky Train itself is a re-imagining of Railroad Tycoon, according to A Bit Lucky chief creative officer Jordan Maynard, but where the single player of Tycoon controlled all the various destinations, this Facebook version relies on the points of your social graph.
The train’s initial trip starts with one destination, whichever friend you’ve picked for the journey. The ensuing journey is where Lucky Train gets interesting. You or your friend can edit the train’s route to add new intermediate destinations. Each new person on the route will have the chance to send the train on a longer trip, as well as upgrade the train so that it travels faster or carries more passengers.
Doing so is beneficial to all, because the train’s cargo, the passengers, will deliver more money and experience as the trip gets longer. The odd thing about this setup is that you may end up with any number of strangers on your train’s route, because the people your immediate friends add in won’t necessarily be in your own network. Maynard refers to it as the six degrees of separation of the gaming world.
The train mechanic makes Lucky Train a more intensively social game than most others we’ve seen on Facebook. You can conceivably play a game like FarmVille or Happy Aquarium without friends, and the social mechanics within those games, typically visiting a farm or fish tank to perform a few simple tasks, isn’t absolutely required to get ahead. For Lucky Train, players have to interact, and every action directly benefits both themselves and others in their network.
For now, sending off passengers and filling your town (there are also trees, flowers and other typical decorations to spread around) is as far as Lucky Train goes. In the future, Maynard and co-founder Frederic Descamps plan on adding more complicated features for the advanced game, including a shipping mechanic in which trains help players trade resources used to build more valuable properties, like the Eiffel Tower. Future additions could also include the ability to send messages with trains, expand to new communities, and learn more about the historically-based trains used in the game.
But even in its first release, Lucky Train is pretty unique, with a bright, friendly art style and several interesting mechanics that differ considerably from other Facebook games. It’s a bit simpler at the moment than some other games that we’ve seen recently released, but its more unusual features should stand it in good stead while A Bit Lucky works on adding more to the game.