I have a real fascination with trains, which I think a lot of gamers share. Simulations involving trains generally rank pretty highly in popularity among sim titles. Games involving trains also have a long history in the industry going back to the days of Railroad Tycoon, Sid Meyer’s Railroads and many others. In general, most of those titles act as both a simulation of a working railroad and also an economic challenge where you have to keep the business side of your railroad empire running smoothly.
A perfect recent example of this is Railway Empire 2, which recently earned a really solid 4 GiN Gem score in our review. Games like those in the Railway Empire series really let train enthusiasts play with those trains in beautiful sandboxes, which look really good these days with their modern graphics processers and engines. But as interesting as titles like that are, they also generally have steep learning curves. For example, Railway Empire 2 had a spreadsheet-like interface where you could look at how goods flowed to and from (and also through) various cities with projections about growth as a city’s population grew. Skilled players could use that to plan railroad routes, thus increasing the population and ultimately supporting specific businesses that you could also invest in, which would be profitable for a long time. Yes, it can make you feel like a real tycoon, but you need to invest a lot of time into learning and mastering the interface.
Those realistic train titles are fun, but sometimes players just want to play with trains without having to think too much about it. And that is what the latest title from developer Galaxy Grove provides. In Station to Station, players are tasked with setting down railroad lines to help connect burgeoning little communities. And once you have your track put down, Station to Station will automatically spawn steam engines to start hauling those goods or passengers between stations – hence the name of the game. In a way, it’s not unlike what players would do in a game like Railway Empire, but in a much more simplified and forgiving way.
For example, figuring out who needs what is quite easy in Station to Station. There are little icons placed right above each business, resource or town which shows what it needs or what it produces. So, for a simple chain, you might start with a dairy farm, build a station and then place track leading to another station sitting beside a cheesery which needs that milk. From there, you could transport the cheese into a grateful city with a demand for that delicious product. It costs money to put down the tracks and build stations, and more if you need to use bridges to make those connections, but in general you almost always make more money for matching suppliers with those who need goods.
The fairly simplistic game world is complimented with a delightful artistic style. The world looks a bit like a game of Minecraft where everything is made of blocks. It’s really very charming and also quite colorful. There is no time limit either, so you can relax while you plan out your rail lines, or even sit back for a while and enjoy watching your trains climb up hills, chug around bends and slowly pull into each station. Station to Station is also complemented by some whimsical music that further sets its serene mood.
The missions in Station to Station start off extremely easy. Players are presented with a zone that has a handful of missions for them to tackle in order. Generally, gameplay elements are explained as you play, so the whole first half of the title is kind of like a tutorial even though it does not feel like one, which is nice. Gradually, Station to Station introduces advanced concepts into the gameplay, like the use of cards that can be collected and spent to do special things like reduce the costs of rail lines or bridges.
There are also challenges like earning a set amount of money during a mission or trying to construct all of your rail lines without the use of bridges. New elements like passenger trains and additional, multi-stage resource chains also gradually make their way into the title. There is a very gentle learning curve, and while the later levels can get pretty complex, Station to Station is never punishingly difficult. And if players get tired of following the various challenges, there is a sandbox mode that is highly configurable in terms of map sizes, the kind of industries populated in the mission and starting money. I found that jumping in and doing a sandbox mission from time to time was a perfect way to unwind, especially when I only had a few minutes of free time.
I really enjoyed almost everything about Station to Station, and you get a lot for less than $20 on Steam, making it a really good value too. The one quibble that I have with the gameplay is that later on in the main missions, you are basically tasked with constructing highly inefficient railroads in order to achieve higher scores (which is awarded as a bonus to your reward money when linking resources). Instead of constructing highly efficient railroads, it instead rewards you for first connecting a bunch of businesses and resources that don’t need one another (like a wheat field to a cheesery) and then tying everything together at the end so that multiple systems of supply and demand are routed together through a final connection.
Playing Station to Station that way unfortunately often requires planning rail lines and routing trains in ways that don’t make any logical sense just to try and maximize the bonus when you finally tie the various systems together. I would have preferred it if the game instead rewarded players for building efficient transport networks where goods could be quickly routed through the least number of stops or transfers. But I suppose this is a different type of transportation title, and I could always build my highly efficient systems in the sandbox where the points don’t matter.
Station to Station is perfect for anyone who enjoys titles with light puzzle elements, visually stunning and peaceful world settings and, of course, really cool-looking trains. There is a lot of content for not a lot of money too. I personally found Station to Station to be a great palate-cleansing type of game to enjoy between bouts of more serious gaming, or a way to unwind after a stressful day when I wanted to enjoy some quality gameplay without having to spend too much mental energy. It’s certainly a unique title, and one that should appeal to a lot of players.