I thought I’d post a review today of a board game that I bought for my kids this last Christmas. Yes, I’m aware that was 5 months ago, but it’s honestly taken me this long to decide whether I love it or hate it. My family, including my 8yo and my 7yo, really enjoys playing Settlers of Catan, so when I found out there was a version based on the building of the transcontinental railroad in the United States, my little homeschooling heart just about burst. The game, Catan Histories: Trails to Rails, is around the $50 mark, so I hesitated… a lot. I finally caved over the holidays because… learning and Catan and awesomeness awaited us if I could just fork over the cash.
The box says this game is for ages 12+, 3-4 players, and that the game takes about 2 hours. In comparison, the original Settlers of Catan game says it’s for players ages 10+, 3-4 players (but you can buy expansions for more players), and that the game takes about an hour.
We’ve played the original game with my younger kids without issue. The concepts are not too hard for them to understand, but I’ve never met a Catan game that “only” lasted an hour. Ever. It usually takes us 2-3 hours, even when it’s all adults playing and no kids. Basically, I don’t believe a word on the box.
Trails to Rails is actually more accurate on the box, but I still don’t think a game could be completed in 2 hours. The 12+ age range is probably a good suggestion, but you know your own kids. It could be fun for a child who loves board games, but is younger. Game play is not difficult in any way, especially if you’re familiar with the trade system and game basics of the original Catan game. My kids are a little too young to have the attention span to finish a game, and that’s our real issue. Then again, they also have a hard time completing a full Monopoly game.
Let’s be real: I have a hard time completing a whole Monopoly game, even at 30+.
Trails to Rails is the equivalent of a full day of Monopoly. We’ve played 5 or 6 times now, and every time we’ve started in the late morning and ended right before dinner – play time is maybe 6 hours, realistically.
Of course, I offer lots of fun snacks and we talk a lot of smack while we’re playing. There’s also toddler distractions and some sort of meal in the middle. Catan, whether the original game or Trail to Rails, is an event in my house. I cherish these days, because I spend them with my husband in friendly competition and we all get to be together as a family.
This section will only be useful to you if you’re familiar with the original Settlers of Catan game. If you’re not, you can skip to the end to read my final conclusions.
Personally, I like Trails to Rails better, but I wish the game didn’t take so long. In Catan, when someone rolls the dice, whoever is on that commodity gets cards while everyone else gets nothing. In Trails to Rails, everyone gets something every turn. If you don’t get commodities, you get a gold coin. Coins are spent on commodities, 2 coins for each one. This speeds up game play a lot. I wish this was a feature of Catan, because I miss it when we’re not playing Trails to Rails. There’s a lot more building, a lot more for the banker to do, more trading, and all this makes for livelier game play with no lulls.
In Trails to Rails, there are commodity hexes that go out of game play as players migrate out west. Because of this, the dynamic between players is constantly changing. Some players who start out powerful may become very weak later on in the game, and it provides an opportunity for anyone to race ahead in the middle of the game when Catan games typically start to lag.
The main changes in pieces are that the hex board is no longer variable, as it’s a set board and not individual pieces. Also, instead of brick and sheep, players use coal and cattle. I hate that coal and ore and so similar. I am constantly confusing the two.
Both games contain beautiful wood playing pieces and a strong, durable board. Both use a robber when a 7 is rolled, and both use development and resource cards. Trails to Rails has no longest road or largest army, and no equivalent, either. Trails to Rails has trains, goods, settler wagons, and rails, while Catan has settlements cities, and roads.
I love playing Trails to Rails for about 3 or 4 hours. Then, I hate it. Then, a few days later, I ask if anyone wants to play again. I’m still not sure if I love it or hate it. As much as I want to say one or the other, it’s actually both. It’s really fun to move your settlers across the United States and settle in Reno, NV; Chicago, IL, or Flagstaff, AZ. Game days produce some of my favorite memories. Any variety of Catan is better than most other board games, in my opinion. Strategy, luck, and players’ moods transform the game into something new every time. We’ll continue playing this game, and I’ll continue to love-hate it.
Have you played Catan or Trails to Rails? What does your family think of the game? If you have any other favorite strategy games, comment below. I’m always up to finding new games that my kids will love.