Developed by the trio of Alexey Davydov, Sergey Dvoynikov and Timofey Shargorodskiy, Train Valley is labelled as a strategy/management simulation. I actually think it’s more of a real-time puzzle game and, despite some missteps when it comes to explanation, it’s a real hidden gem.
I don’t have many gripes with Train Valley but one thing the developers really could have done better is explain the mechanics. The tutorial is functional but little else. It doesn’t explain how to schedule extra trains or why the button is sometimes disabled for no apparent reason, even though that’s actually one of the advanced objectives in the tutorial level.
Nor does it explain the somewhat vital and undersized metre in the bottom-right of the screen. This is actually a time that shows when a new train is going to be added to a map, (they magically appear and disappear, you’re not constantly guiding the same trains around the map) and that if the metre gets into the red, some trains may decide to begin their journey without your permission.
A Fun Challenge
The requirement of each level is to successfully guide the trains around until you’ve gone through however many are set to appear (the game doesn’t actually give an indication) without going bankrupt. You do this by linking towns together with track, clicking to launch trains on their journey and manually operating junction switches to ensure that they end up in the right place. Levels will also have additional objectives to add a little extra challenge.
There’s quite a bit of micro-management involved, as you’ll need to occasionally click on a train’s icon to stop it or reverse it. You’ll also need to think quickly when you have multiple trains on the go to ensure that everything runs smoothly.
If that doesn’t get complicated enough (it does!), trains start with a cash value. The longer it takes for them to reach their destination, the less money you’ll get at the end of the journey. You’ll always start off with at least two towns, although more will pop up on the map as a level progresses, which will force you to lay new track and potentially modify your existing tracks to accommodate them.
If the unthinkable does happen and your trains crash, you’ll lose the monetary reward for completing their journey, obviously, as well as the tracks they were on immediately underneath, which can be costly if the two trains happen to be transporting a lot of cars.
There are three game modes to play through. The classic mode is described above, short levels that last upwards of 10 minutes with set goals. There’s a random mode where levels last a little longer and are completely randomly generated, which can either present near impossible challenges or layouts that are dead simple. Finally, there’s the sandbox mode which I’ve had a few problems with. Firstly, despite the name, some of the levels end suddenly. Secondly, it’s all a bit flat. Most of the challenge has been removed by the exclusion of money and as such the game loses a lot of its appeal.
The classic mode has four time periods and locations to play through and there’s also an additional DLC based in Germany which is very reasonably priced.
As you get further into the ‘campaign’, the difficulty ramps up considerably. Attempting to manage five trains on the go at once is a real challenge and it’s up to you find the point where it becomes too much before things go badly wrong.
The developers clearly care about their game – and it shows. Visually, Train Valley looks like a cross between a strategy game like Endless Legend and a board game. The animations are good and particular attention has been paid to the trains, which makes sense. It’s not the highest fidelity game in the world but it’s certainly past the point of being good enough.
You get a sense of progress through a level as the towns that you guide trains into are improved, with extra buildings popping up around them each time a journey is completed.
One thing that sandbox mode is good for, whether intended or not, is attempting to create the biggest crash possible. Try to get trains from six towns leaving at the same time and all heading onto the same track in the centre of the map and watch everything blow up. It’s more fun than it should be!
I love Train Valley. I’m not normally a fan of puzzle games but this is one that really took me by surprise and presented the challenges in such a way as to be thoroughly entertaining throughout. It’s currently €9.99 on Stream and worth every penny.