TrainStation Takes Players Back to the Early Days of Rail Travel on Facebook

Rail travel may not be the choice of most Americans, but there’s still something romantic about a train. Railroad Tycoon, Sid Meier’s Railroads!, Lucky Train on Facebook and the bazillion dollar model train industry are proof that we may not ride them, but we do love them.  Pixel Federation’s TrainStation continues this tradition by bringing single-player dynamics to a multi-player world using a unique leveling and resource system.

The concept is simple: the player begins in the Old West with a few trains, some passengers, mail, and freight cars, and the need to move said goods. Passenger and mail can be delivered together; nails and lumber can be picked up. Many, many levels later materials such as brick and glass become available — although with dense gameplay and little explanation, many won’t make it that far.

The materials are used to build along the rail line, thereby increasing passenger travel. Each building contributes to the number of passengers traveling per hour. Mail must be picked up daily from neighbors — a default neighbor is provided — to be shipped. Additional mail can be had by capturing letters that float to the sky from the rail line.

The primary decision to be made is how to balance delivering mail and/or passengers and receive goods. By design, the optimum decision is to choose short hauls for easily replenished items such as passengers and mail. Longer hauls are more cost effective and efficient when gathering resources. The player can run many short, 10-minute hops while catching floating mail icons, and consume the day’s collected passengers and neighbor’s daily mail for the greatest experience and income. Once complete, the trains are set with different cars and sent on long hauls to collect the maximum quantity of goods until the next login.

Neighbors do not affect route choice or profitability. What neighbors can do is increase the speed at which a player levels. This is accomplished in two ways.  The first is passive: the more neighbors a player has, the more mail there is to deliver each day; the more mail to deliver, the more income and experience to be earned. The second manner requires that a neighbor place a flag in a station, thereby increasing the number of passengers available by 10 percent.

Level determines what locomotives, cars, buildings, and themes can be purchased. Levels 1-12 will be spent in the default Western theme. By purchasing Gems, and upgrading to engines that carry more cars, pay less station tax, and transport more goods, these 12 levels can be accomplished fairly quickly. However the cost of the gems to upgrade a full train is significant. After eleven levels, even one engine upgrade is out of reach. It’s unfortunate, but in TrainStation, deeper pockets win the race.

Once a player does reach level 12, the Meadow theme is open for purchase. Themes are not cosmetic enhancements, but an option to move to a different era in rail travel. Once a theme is purchased, its attendant buildings, cars, and engines are opened. What makes themes particularly unique is that they don’t preclude advancing in a previous era. A player need only switch back to a preferred them to continue.

TrainStation is frustrating in that the concept is inspired; however the execution shows a lack of experience. The art direction is consistent, polished, and beautiful. A player can not only scroll in and out, but can also lift the scene for a better vertical view. Yet the tutorial is nothing more than a series of bouncing arrows that state “click here.” Only the most persistent will get through.

Time and experience may correct some of the inconsistencies in TrainStation. The single-player friendly design is a great asset that can carry the title as optional social interaction is added. But it will take a more fairly balanced economy, a less-steep leveling curve, and a user-friendly tutorial to increase retention and allow the more inspired design concepts shine through.