12 Great Train-Themed Board and Card Games

Children playing board game
Jeff Greenough / Getty Images

Even in this age of routine air travel—and with commercial space travel perhaps an imminent realitys—railroads still hold a certain magical appeal among hobbyists and game players. From model trains to online simulation games, hobbyists young and hold continue to be fascinated by all aspects of the history and operation of railways and the technology of trains.

Here are 12 excellent card and board games, several of which focus on the business aspect of railroads.

  • 01 of 12

    Ticket to Ride

    One of the most popular of all games, Ticket to Ride, along with its related expansions and follow-ups, is an absolutely top-notch game. It can be played in less than an hour and provides a lot of depth without being complicated. Players compete to build railroad lines across the United States, trying to connect specific cities while preventing other players from reaching their goals. Winning requires a variety of smart strategic and tactical choices, giving Ticket to Ride considerable replay value. This is a terrific family strategy game. 

    For 2 to 5 players, ages 8 and up. Designed by Alan R. Moon, published by Days of Wonder.

  • 02 of 12

    Steam: Rails to Riches/ Age of Steam

    In these two closely related games, players compete to build railroads and deliver goods via a network of tracks and stations that develops as the game progresses. Both Steam: Rails to Riches (2009) and Age of Steam (originally released in 2002) are heavyweight strategy games, and both are excellent choices for serious gamers. If you enjoy deep games that reward repeated play, we strongly recommend either Steam or Age of Steam.

    For 3 to 6 players, ages 12 and up. Designed by Martin Wallace, published by Mayfair Games (Steam) and Eagle Games (Age of Steam).

  • 03 of 12

    Union Pacific

    A remake of Moon's earlier game Airlines, Union Pacific puts players in the role of railroad tycoons as they try to acquire stock in the best railroad companies. Players chose between expanding the companies or playing stock from their hand. But you must remember that when scoring takes place, only played stock counts.

    For 2 to 6 players, ages 12 and up. Designed by Alan R. Moon, published by Rio Grande Games.

  • 04 of 12

    Volldampf

    In this railroad board game, players are challenged to build their own efficient railroad networks in the setting of early 20th century Germany. Doing so costs a lot of money, thus intelligent borrowing is one of the keys to victory. Interest on the borrowed bonds comes due at the end of each turn, and players who can't afford the interest payments lose cash.

    Volldampf is a cousin of Age of Steam and Steam, and was winner of the 2002 International Gamers Award. A young children's version, Volldampf Voruus!, is also available.

    For 2 to 6 players, ages 12 and up. Designed by Martin Wallace, published by Winsome Games / TM Spiele.

    Continue to 5 of 12 below.
  • 05 of 12

    Stephenson's Rocket

    Many railroad board games are set in America, but Stephenson's Rocket, designed by Reiner Knizia, is set in 1930s England. The game starts with seven companies and inevitably ends with just one. The winner is the player who earned the most money through the shrewd buying and selling of stock.

    For 2 to 4 players, ages 12 and up. Designed by Reiner Knizia, originally published by Rio Grande Games.

  • 06 of 12

    TransAmerica/ TransEuropa

    Unlike most railroad games, TransAmerica is a simple, quick game to play. Each player must connect five U.S. cities with railroad tracks, placing one or two rails at each turn (depending on the terrain). There's some debate about whether strategy is really a factor in TransAmerica, but the game is interesting enough to have won the 2002 Spiel des Jahres, Germany's award for Family Game of the Year. TransEuropa, a sequel, uses essentially the same game system on a map of Europe.

    For 2 to 6 players, ages 8 and up. Designed by Franz-Benno Delonge, published by Winning Moves.

  • 07 of 12

    Freight Train

    Make sure you have a large table before starting Freight Train, as the trains tend to get pretty long. The game's objective is to run and organize your own freight yard. You earn points for building trains with the same cars, or for a train in which every car is different. At the beginning of the game, having cars in your holding yard is good; by the end of the game, it's bad.

    Freight Train is the winner of 1994's  Fairplay À la carte award.

    For 2 to 5 players, ages 10 and up. Designed by Alan R. Moon, originally published by Mayfair Games.

  • 08 of 12

    Chicago Express

    Originally published by Winsome Games as Wabash Cannonball, Chicago Express is set on the East Coast and in the Midwest United States. It is known as a game that depends on strategy rather than luck. Various railroads (the B&O, C&O, Pennsylvania, and New York Central) compete to become the most profitable as they expand from the East Coast to Chicago. Players assume the role of railroad executives seeking the best return on investment; the game lasts about one hour.

    For 2 to 6 players, ages 12 and up. Designed by Harry Wu, published by Queen Games.

    Continue to 9 of 12 below.
  • 09 of 12

    1830: Railroads and Robber Barons

    This game, in which players try to earn money by buying and selling stock in various railroad companies, is much more focused on the stock elements than on the railroad theme. 1830: Railroads and Robber Barons features what has been described as "an extremely vicious robber baron oriented stock market."

    This is one of the longer games to play, often taking from three to six hours to complete.

    For 2 to 6 players, ages 14 and up. Designed by Francis Tresham, published by Avalon Hill.

  • 10 of 12

    San Francisco Cable Car / Metro

    In this light family-friendly train game, players put square tiles on the board to form rail lines, trying to create lines that are as long as possible to connect their trains to a station. Along the way, players may absorb some of their opponents' lines, making them as short as possible. San Francisco Cable Car (first published as Metro) won a Mensa Select Award in 2001. Games generally can be concluded in 30 to 60 minutes.

    For 2 to 6 players, ages 8 and up. Designed by Dirk Henn, published by Queen Games.

  • 11 of 12

    Russian Railroads

    This game makes several lists of the top 10 railway-themed games, and by some accounts is the very best. Gameplay involves a race to build the most advanced and longest railway network by assigning workers to different tasks. The challenge is to balance simple and quick methods against modern technology and business practices.

    For 2 to 4 players, ages 12 and up. Designed by Helmut Ohley and Leonhard Orgler, originally published by Hans im Gluck.

  • 12 of 12

    Railways of the World/ Railroad Tycoon

    Originally published in 2005 as Railroad Tycoon, this game was reissued as Railways of the World in 2009. Gameplay involves attempting to build a massive railway empire, beginning with nothing more than a single locomotive and an assigned mission. The base game is set in North America, but many expansion packs are available, set with different maps.

    For 2 to 6 players, ages 10 and up. Designed by Glenn Drover and Martin Wallace, originally published by Eagle-Gryphon Games.