Yardmaster Game Review

yardmaster_top

The Basics:

  • For ages 8 and up
  • For 2 to 5 players
  • Approximately 20 minutes to complete

Geek Skills:

  • Counting & Math
  • Logical & Critical Decision Making
  • Reading
  • Pattern/Color Matching
  • Strategy & Tactics
  • Risk vs. Reward
  • Hand/Resource Management

Learning Curve:

  • Child – Easy
  • Adult – Easy

Theme & Narrative:

  • Collect and load your goods before you get derailed by the competition

Endorsements:

  • Gamer Geek approved!
  • Parent Geek approved!
  • Child Geek approved!

Overview

Who among us has not seen a train roaring down the rails or heard the lonesome whistle of the engine calling at night? Trains are everywhere, but we seldom take the time to consider how they prepare for their trip. In this game, players will be working to load their trains with valuable cargo. Until the engines roll away, all efforts will result in zero profit.

Yardmaster, designed by Steven Aramini and published by Crash Games, is comprised of 50 Railcar cards, 70 Cargo cards, 5 Engine cards, 5 Exchange Rate tokens, and 1 Yardmaster token. The cards are as thick and as durable as your standard playing cards and the tokens are made of thick cardboard. The tokens can be upgraded to wooden disc if so desired.

Get Ready to Ride the Rails

To set up the game, first  separate the cards by type into three piles. There should be a pile for Railcar, Cargo, and Engine cards when completed.

Second, hand each player an Engine card and place any unclaimed Engine cards back in the game box. Players place the Engine card directly in front of them, face-up. The area below the Engine card (closes to the player) is referred to as the player’s “Sorting Yard”.

yardmaster_engine

Third, shuffle the Railcar card pile to form the Railcar card draw deck. Deal the first 4 cards face-up to the middle of the game playing area. This is the “Arrival Yard”. Place the Railcar card draw deck face-down next to the Arrival Yard.

Fourth, take the 5 Exchange Rate tokens and randomly give 1 to each player, face-up. Players should keep their token in front of them and visible to opponents at all times. Any Exchange Rate tokens not given are placed by the Arrival yard, face-up.

Fifth, shuffle the Cargo card pile to form the Cargo card draw deck. Deal 5 Cargo cards to each player, face-down. Players should look at their cards, but keep them hidden from opponents until played. Place the Cargo card draw deck face-down next to the Arrival Yard. Once placed, draw the top Cargo card and place it face-up next to the draw deck to create the Cargo discard pile.

That’s it for game set up. Determine who will go first. The second player (in turn order sequence) is given the Yardmaster token. The Yardmaster token is placed next to the player’s Exchange Rate token.

Exchange Rates, Mastering the Yard, and Hidden Bonuses

The Exchange Rate and Yardmaster tokens are very important to the game, giving the player who knows how to use them correctly an advantage over their opponent.

Exchange Rate Tokens

The Exchange Rate tokens come in 5 different types. These types correspond with the 5 different cargo types available in the game, which are depicted on the Cargo cards.

yardmaster_ertokens

Normally, the purchase of a Railcar card requires the player to provide a specific number of Cargo cards. Using the Exchange Rate cards, the player can discard 2 Cargo cards of the type shown on the Exchange Rate token to represent 1 Cargo card of any other type.

For example, the “Livestock” Exchange Rate token allows the player to discard 2 “Livestock” Cargo cards to represent any 1 Cargo card. The Exchange Rate token can be used as many times as the player likes for as many exchanges as the player cares to complete.

Yardmaster Token

The Yardmaster token will be given to different players during the duration of the game. The player who currently has control of the Yardmaster token is able to take 3 actions on their turn instead of 2. Taking the third action is optional, but the player MUST give the Yardmaster token to the opponent on their right (the opponent who went before them in turn order sequence) after their turn is over.

yardmaster_ymtoken

The Bonus cards give players additional free actions. They can only be acquired by drawing them from the Cargo card draw deck, since they cannot be taken from the discard pile. When they are drawn, they are placed in the player’s hand and can be kept or played immediately. If the player accumulates more than 1 Bonus card, they can play 1 or more during their turn, before, after, or during their normal actions. They cannot, however, play them out of turn. One played, the Bonus card is placed in the discard pile.

yardmaster_bonus

Locomotive Logistics

Yardmaster is played in turns with no set number of turns per game. On a player’s turn, they can take 2 actions. From the available action options, the player can take the same 2 or different action options and in any order. After the player completes their turn, the next player in turn order sequence takes their turn. This continues until the game comes to an end.

The action options are as follows.

Action Option One: Collect Cargo

This action allows the player to draw either the top-most Cargo card from the draw deck and add it to their hand or take the top-most visible Cargo card from the discard pile. However, if the top-most card in the discard pile is a Bonus card or there are no cards in the discard pile, the player can only collect a Cargo card from the draw deck.

yardmaster_cargo

There is no limit to the number of cards a player can have in their hand, so load up on that cargo!

Action Option Two: Buy a Railcar and then Attach It to the Train or Send It to the Sorting Yard

The face-up Railcar cards in the Arrival Yard are available for purchase if the player has the right number and type (color) of Cargo cards. If the player does, they reveal the Cargo cards they are using, indicating they have the right type and number. The player’s Exchange Rate token can be used if they like. They then discard the used Cargo cards and collect the purchased Railcar card. Only 1 Railcar card can be purchased per action.

yardmaster_railcar

A new Railcar card is then drawn from the Railcar card draw deck to replace the purchased Railcar card, bringing the total number of face-up Railcar cards back to 4.

After purchasing the Railcar card, the player takes and places it behind their Engine card. For the duration of the game, any Railcar cards purchased that match the color or number of the last placed Railcar card MUST be added to the player’s train, placing it directly after the previously placed Railcar card. This will result in the player creating a row of cards comprised of 1 Engine card and many Railcar card.

If the purchased Railcar card does not match the previously placed Railcar card’s color or number, the Railcar card is placed face-up in the player’s Sorting Yard. Railcar cards remain in the player’s Sorting Yard until it can be matched and attached to the player’s train. When possible, the player can move as many Railcar cards from their Sorting Yard to their train without it costing an action.

Railcar cards attached to the player’s train cannot be removed or sorted once placed.

Action Option Three: Swap Exchange Rate Tokens

The player can swap any Exchange Rate token currently held by an opponent or located in the Arrival Yard with their own. This is not an action that can be blocked. The player announces their intention and completes the swap. A player will never have any more or any less than 1 Exchange Rate token during the game.

Mastering the Rails

The game continues until 1 player has reached the point goal. In a 2 to 3-player game, the first player to earn 18 or more points wins. In a 4 to 5-player game, the first player to earn 16 or more points wins. A player can quickly determine their total number of points collected so far by adding the number values on their Railcar cards attached to their train. Railcar cards in the player’s Sorting Yard are not counted, but nor do they penalize the player.

Game Expansions

Our copy of the game came with 2 expansions. Each are summarized here.

Shake Your Caboose

The Caboose expansion introduces 1 Caboose card per player that is worth exactly 2 points. Each Caboose card represents 1 of the 5 different cargo types. During game set up, each player is dealt 1 Caboose card at random which is immediately placed in the player’s Sorting Yard area. There it will remain until it can be placed at the end of the player’s train, making it the last possible card the player can use. But there’s a catch. The Caboose card can only be played if it makes the player’s total number of points equal to or greater than the game’s point goal. Since you can play cards from your Sorting Yard as a free action, this makes the Caboose a genuine assets of interest. However, one does not need to use the Caboose card to win.

“Bonus” Bonus Cards

The “Bonus” Bonus card pack is not really an expansion. It’s more of an extension and gives players an opportunity to tailor their gaming experience. The new Bonus cards can be either integrated into the game by just shuffling them in or mixed and matched with the base game’s Bonus cards by removing some and keeping others. The end result gives the players a fresh set of Bonus cards and the ability to adjust random windfalls and pitfalls in the game. For example, randomly select 5 Bonus cards during game set up, discarding the Bonus cards not used. Or, select the ones you want and shuffle them in.

House Rules

Yardmaster is a pretty darn good game right out of the box, but it didn’t please everyone fully. A few House Rules were added that made the game all the more enjoyable for those who believed it needed just a bit more.

Railcar Penalty

Players are welcome to take and place as many Railcars as they like to their Sorting Yard, but the cards reduce their overall points. This means a card in the Sorting Yard could cause the player to lose the game if they don’t get them behind their Engine card as soon as possible.

No More Bonuses

Some found the Bonus cards to be unnecessary and removed them from the game. This was also done with groups who had players who had trouble reading. The game’s flow and level of fun was not harmed with the Bonus cards removal.

To learn more about Yardmaster, visit the game’s web page.

Final Word

The Child Geeks really enjoyed the game, finding the colored cards to be useful when quickly scanning the table for possible matches. The heavy use of solid color also made the game easy to teach and to enjoy with younger Child Geeks that would otherwise have difficulty with games with a lot of text. The Bonus cards do require reading, but they can be removed from the game without upsetting the fun. According to one Child Geek, “What I like about this game is the race. You have to make some really important decisions when it comes time load your train.” Another Child Geek said, “At first, I was really concerned about collecting the right cargo. And then I was, all like, OH NO!, I don’t have the railcars I need!” All of the Child Geeks struggled during the first game to find the balance between collecting Cargo cards and claiming Railcars. After the second game, they were making bold moves and placing their Railcars in their Sorting Yard. When all the games were over and the trains returned to the station, the Child Geeks unanimously agreed to approve Yardmaster.

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My oldest son carefully considers his options using the newly acquired Yardmaster token

The Parent Geeks also found Yardmaster to be a lot of fun, but on deeper and more strategic levels. According to one Parent Geek, “This game has multiple layers. You are doing more than just collecting cards. You have to time everything right, take a few calculated risks, and make some tough choices.” Another Parent Geek said, “I think I like this better than Ticket to Ride. It plays faster and feels more exciting and challenging.” A number of the Parent Geeks described Yardmaster as a race, which no one had a problem with. The only game related issue was the Bonus cards. A few of the Parent Geeks found them to be a bit too powerful. Powerful or not, this  minor quibble did nothing to stop the Parent Geeks from fully approving the game.

The Gamer Geeks have a strange love/hate relationship with games with trains. They either really adore them or greatly dislike them. I had both groups and their initial reactions before playing the game ranged from enthusiasm to sudden boredom. After playing once, it became clear that Yardmaster was a game that required its players to really think through their moves. At which point, all the Gamer Geeks sat up a bit straighter and took notice. One Gamer Geek said, “I like games like this. They have a solid design, well-structured game play, and don’t drag. I think this game would be great as a filler or when I want to play a game that keeps me engaged with players who don’t know anything about games.” Another Gamer Geek said, “The game is simple in its execution, but that’s not a negative mark against it. I like how the player has to transition from collecting to purchasing, but is restricted from doing too much. Normally, I hate restrictions, but the limited actions gently force a player to think smart instead of just fast. This is a good game.” And finally, another Gamer Geek said, “I normally don’t go in for card games or even games with trains, but this is a pretty good game. It feels more like a race than anything else, but even that works for me.” The Gamer Geeks quickly joined the Child Geeks and Parent Geeks, praising Yardmaster and giving it their full approval.

Yardmaster is an interesting game. I would suggest its overall message is this: “freedom at a cost”.

Players have the ability to buy what they don’t immediately need in hopes that the investment will soon be useful. This made me immediately think of Alhambra, where players could buy tiles and hold them until they became needed. A Railcar not behind an Engine card is worth zero points, however, and the player won’t get a return on the Cargo cards they spent until the Railcar is on the line. Players have to juggle what they want in the long wrong with what they can use immediately. This caused more than one of our players to pause and really consider each of their action options.

Freedom at a cost can also be found when purchasing Railcars. A player’s first focus in on collecting the right number of Cargo cards for a specific Railcar, but they can shortcut the collection process by using their Exchange Rate tokens. Handy, but also costly. This shortcut allows the player to grab the visible Railcar card, but the cost is often higher, taxing the player time and more Cargo cards then they might want to spend.

The Yardmaster didn’t upset the balance of the game one bit. You might assume (as I did) that having the Yardmaster would give the player a serious advantage. Not the case. Turns out that having one additional action per turn is important, but not game changing. At most, it might allow a player to win the game on their turn instead of waiting for their next turn to achieve the point goal. The use of the Yardmaster actually made the choices the player had to make harder because it was a temporary bonus. Have you ever felt overwhelmed with a gift card because you didn’t know what to use it on? The Yardmaster token is a lot like that. It gives the players an opportunity, but stops short of suggesting if it should be used or how.

The Bonus cards were a nice surprise. It made drawing blindly from the Cargo deck a worthwhile action. Since there is no hand size limit, the player can keep their Bonus cards indefinitely. When the player thinks the timing is right, the Bonus cards can come into play and give the player a quick boost. How useful they are, however, depends completely on the player’s timing.

Interestingly enough, the game is a great deal different with 2 players versus 3 or more. A 2-player game is focused on making smart plays at a steady pace. One wrong move, and the player will have a tough time making up for their mistakes. The Yardmaster token will become your best friend and most bitterest of foes. When playing with 3 or more players, the game becomes a race. More risk is taken because there is more time to reflect on past moves and adjust strategies. This was a wonderful surprise as it made Yardmaster all the more interesting and desirable for those looking for a game that could be played different ways.

Yardmaster is a good time. It challenged all our players, while maintaining an atmosphere of casual game play. It’s not any overly difficult game, but it does have enough depth to keep serious gamers seriously interested. It’s also one of those rare gems where no one player runs away with the game, keeping everyone playing involved to the very end. Although it can feel like an uphill battle to catch up if the right cards are not available. As soon as a game was over, all the players (except the player who won) demanded a new game. Now that’s the kind of game I want to play.

If you are big on Train games, then you will enjoy Yardmaster. For a small card game, it does a great job of capturing the logistical nightmare of loading and rolling out freight. Those who do not enjoy Train games will still find Yardmaster to be a pleasant experience. The set collecting and resource management aspects are enough to keep you engaged from the very start without feeling like an overwhelming chore. Do take the time to play this game, as I am certain you will enjoy the ride.

This game was given to Father Geek as a review copy. Father Geek was not paid, bribed, wined, dined, or threatened in vain hopes of influencing this review. Such is the statuesque and legendary integrity of Father Geek.

About Cyrus

Editor in Chief, Owner/Operator, Board Game Fanatic, Father of Three, and Nice Guy, Cyrus has always enjoyed board, card, miniature, role playing, and video games, but didn't get back into the hobby seriously until early 2000. Once he did, however, he was hooked. He now plays board games with anyone and everyone he can, but enjoys playing with his children and wife the most. Video games continue to be of real interest, but not as much as dice and little miniatures. As he carefully navigates the ins and outs of parenting, he does his very best to bestow what wisdom he has and help nurture his children's young minds. It is his hope and ambition to raise three strong, honorable men who will one day go on to do great things and buy their Mom and Dad a lobster dinner Cyrus goes by the handle fathergeek on Board Game Geek. You can also check him out on CyrusKirby.com. Yes, he has a URL that is his name. His ego knows no bounds, apparently....
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One Response to Yardmaster Game Review

  1. benhaskett says:

    Yeah! Love this game, glad you and your groups enjoyed it as well. And those colors!

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