When I attended SaltCON for the first time this year, I didn’t know what to expect. To my delight I met some amazing game creators, game fans, and game players. Attendees were people there of all ages and levels but there were a few that who had rising stars. One such individual was the winner of the 2014 Ion Award in the “light” category, Steven Aramini. He was quiet spoken and humble about his game Payload. I met Steven through the man who is publishing his game under the new name Yardmaster, Patrick Nickell. Patrick of Crash Games saw something special in Steven’s game and was excited to talk to me about it at length.
Patrick told me that the flavor was perfect for a rename and that one of the major game components was the obvious choice. After a few rounds with a prototype copy, I couldn’t have agreed with him more. Yardmaster, as it is now called and will be when the Kickstarter for the game launches this month, is a simple card game with deep strategy that can change with each play through. The point of the game is to have a train of twenty points in cars via numbered cargo cards. Each player can set train car cards aside that do not match a color or a number to add to the end of their train. In that simple train management through color and number, the Yardmaster flavor comes through elegantly.
Yardmaster is simple to pick up, fun to play, and hard to put down.
Speaking of elegant, the art for the game was done by illustrator Dan Thompson. I can’t possibly gush enough about the quality or preciseness of the art for Yardmaster. The game looks like it came directly out of one of the 60’s episodes of “Mad Man”. The art doesn’t distract or clutter the cards themselves. The colors of the cargo and railcar cards are red, green, yellow or blue and each color gets a minimalist icon of livestock, timber, oil, or coal. The corresponding railcars are numbered but are all the same for their type. During the game you’ll find yourself admiring your growing train and how each card fits together perfectly. The minimalism of the illustration complimented by the game mechanic’s makes for a perfectly harmonious package. Yardmaster is simple to pick up, fun to play, and hard to put down.
Gameplay is fairly straight forward but the rules are always a good thing to take a moment and read through. To get to the twenty point train, players have 2 actions per turn with a third when the Yardmaster has rotated around the table to them. For an action a player can draw a card from either the discard or the cargo pile, buy a railcar to stage or add to your train, trade for a two for one token or play a special action card from their hand. There is only one of each kind of special action card and their use in the game is balanced by no single card being too powerful. Despite the power level being low and the small number of choices for a player to choose as an action, the strategy of deciding when to draw from each pile, when to time their action cards right, and how to build their train so that adding railcars flows quickly to twenty points.
The game as it is now can only be played by four players but with such a simple design, Yardmaster is ripe for expansions. It’s an easy to learn family game that’s fun for everyone at a gathering or as a filler game during those long gaming sessions. The train theme is appealing for its art but is also great for anyone who loves the rails. The suggested age group is 8+ and the playing time on the rules says 20-30 minutes but I found most of the games after the 4th didn’t go longer than 15. If you’re not a heavy gamer and like fun casual games, this is one to pick up on Kickstarter. It’s also great if you are a heavy gamer and would like a game your non-gamer family will enjoy during gatherings or holidays.
If you’re interested in the Kickstarter for this game you can get to it by clicking this link here. If you’d like more information about the game through Crash Games you can find their page here and you can follow Patrick on Twitter @Crash_Games. For a much better explanation of the rules you can head on over to Board Game Geek where you’ll learn that Yardmaster is in the Card Game category and uses the Hand Management and Set Collection mechanics. All of that wasn’t important to me because I’m more interested in whether or not a game is fun. After playing the game over 30 times with players of all skill levels and ages I can confidently say that Yardmaster passes the fun test with “rolling” colors.
Image Credit: Crash Games
Image Credit: Crash Games