Tag Archives: Train Valley

The Challenge of Train Valley

I brought up Train Valley as one of the titles I bought during the Steam Winter Sale.  It wasn’t quite what I expected it to be… but you never know what a game really is until you start playing it.  I am not sure exactly what I expected, something more free-form or open world, like a Minecraft rail mod, or maybe a more hands on Ticket to Ride.

trainvalley

Train Valley is not either of those.  Still, it looked to be a fun little game so I played on to see what it offered.  It seemed simple enough, you just build tracks between stations and then send trains back and forth.

Simple track layout

Simple track layout

Each level starts with a couple of stations and more get added as the level goes along.  Trains then appear at each station and you click on them to start them off and then make sure they arrive at their destination.  Piece of cake.

You play through various scenarios, which are akin to levels, as you need to succeed on one in order to advance to the next.  The scenarios are divided into various geographical areas, starting with small European countries, then the United States, then Russia/USSR, then Japan, and finally Germany.  Germany is actually a DLC addition, but I bought the whole Train Valley package, including all the DLC which included Germany and the soundtrack.

The first set of scenarios

The first set of scenarios

There is a postage stamp theme to the scenarios and they each have some bonus goals, called “Advanced Objectives” associated with them.  For each goal you manage you get a cancellation stamp on the level.  I would guess that there is a range of about 20 standard goals which get re-used in different combos throughout the scenarios.

Bonus goals for the Tokyo scenario

Bonus goals for the Tokyo scenario

Those goals do not actually enter into your ability to successfully complete a scenario.  They just add up for achievements and provide a bit of extra challenge.  The final round in each region doesn’t even have extra goals.  In fact, you can do all sorts of things wrong… crash trains, send them to the wrong station, lay out your track badly… and still complete a round.

The gating item in each scenario is money, something I didn’t fully grasp until I was into the series of US levels. (And yes, I am using “levels,” “rounds,” and “scenarios” interchangeably, deal.)  There I actually started running out of money, at which point you are declared “bankrupt” and the round ends.

Laying track costs money.  Removing structures that may be in the way of where you want your track to go costs money.  And then there is a tax on your rails that you pay at intervals which takes money out of your budget.  So there is a constant drain on your cash.

To earn money you have to get trains to their destination.  The sooner they roll out and the sooner the arrive, the more money you get.  You can even call for “extra” trains.  (One of the standard bonus objectives is to have 5-10 additional trains run during the level.)

Levels start out with just one train and a station or three, but then things heat up and soon you have trains waiting to go and more stations to hook up and you have to consider how to lay things out so that a train from any given station can get to any other station.  And if a train waits in the station too long, it will eventually just go, rolling out onto the rail line and mucking up whatever you might be trying to do.

I think I got this one laid out okay

I think I got this one laid out okay

You can see on the level in the screen shot above that there is a tunnel.  That is an added complication that rolls a train at you every so often.  More complications.  And when trains crash, that costs money too.  There is a loss for the train, the need to clear away the damage, and the building of new track.

I started going bankrupt occasionally on the US levels until I started paying closer attention to my budget.  It wasn’t until the Russia/USSR levels that this became critical.  At the “Iron Curtain” level the initial stations are far enough apart that you have to thread exactly the right path or go bankrupt immediately.  Again, more attention to budget and pathing required.

Still, I made it through that and into the Japan levels, which were the original end game.  Here is where I started having to take a few swings at the ball in order to finish a level.  The Sapporo level took me more than a few tries as it is a tight layout and throws trains at you from off map… fast trains… fairly often.  Still, I managed it.  I didn’t get any of the bonus objectives, but I made it without going bankrupt.

Then I arrived in Tokyo, the penultimate of the Japanese levels.  The trains are long and fast and show up at a rapid pace once the level started moving, you end up with a lot of stations, space on the ground is tight, and to get the layout you need you have to destroy some expensive buildings.

Starting off in Tokyo

Starting off in Tokyo

You end up with a fairly generous starting bank account, but having that first train show up wanting to get between two difficult stations can strain your budget almost immediately.  In the screen shot above I am blowing almost half my initial capital for the first stretch of rail, and I still have four stations unconnected.

I tend to start off okay… if I get a good first train or two I can often add a couple of extras just for a bit more cash… but eventually I hit a point where things begin to spin out of control.

Things begin to go badly

Things begin to go badly

In that screen shot the train in the upper right is going to leave the station, ready or not, two trains have collided at the green station, I haven’t finished repairing after the collision at the purple station, the red station isn’t even hooked up yet, and every station has a train ready to go.  And, as I noted, the trains are long, the freight trains are fast, and the passenger trains are faster.  I forget to set one switch correctly on the tracks and it is like an air traffic controller mistake and everything is going to end in disaster.  I go bankrupt… or quit when I know that is headed my way… every time.  I’ve had the rails full of stopped trains, another train threatening to go in a couple seconds, the game paused, and no solution in sight more than a few times.

But I persist.  Somebody even put together a page of rail layouts that seem to work… I searched for that after a lot of runs at Tokyo… which I am not miles away from on this level, but you need to earn cash to tear down buildings to get it just right, and even then it is a near run thing.  This is the twitch reaction level for the game so far.  I not only need to get the rails laid right, but I need to keep the switches set and the trains going in the right direction… and forget about the bonus objectives.

I haven’t even seen ze German layouts yet.  Not bad for a $3.39 investment.  I have gotten my money’s worth in play time out of it, and I still sit down every night and take a few runs at Tokyo.  I’ve just got to make fewer mistakes to best it.

Steam Winter Sale 2016 Results

Another Steam Winter Sale has come and gone.  I think it was “Winter” this year, and not “Holiday,” as it has occasionally been in past years.  I didn’t take a screen shot of the banner.  Whatever, you know what I mean.

The usual array of things happened.  There was opening day pricing comedy.  There was an event in which to participate, in this case the first ever Steam awards.  There were cards to earn by voting and by reviewing queues and badges to craft when you collected enough cards.  And, of course, stuff was on sale, with price marked down anywhere from a milquetoast 10% (looking at you Civilization VI) to a riveting 75% and beyond.

I will take those topics in order.

Pricing comedy this year, as every year, happened just as the sale launched.  This year’s twist was things appearing in the wrong pricing category as opposed to the usual absurdly low or even negative pricing that has happened in past sales.  That was all fixed pretty quickly, but not quickly enough to keep me from getting a couple of amusing screen shots back when the sale launched.

The event, The Steam Awards, was an attempt at…something.  The categories were presented before the sale and people were asked to nominate titles for them.  Then the top nominees were presented, one a day… except for the last day of voting when we got three… for people to vote on.  For each vote you got an event card.

The problem with the whole thing is that, in allowing community nominations and voting, I am not sure they can replay this as an event again next year… unless they radically change the categories.  Fans of certain games will persist in being fans and will nominate and vote for the same thing every year if you let them.  Anyway, the winners were:

  • Villain Most in Need of a Hug – Portal 2
  • I Thought This Game Was Cool Before It Won an Award – Euro Truck Simulator 2
  • Test of Time –  The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim
  • Just 5 More Minutes – Counter-Strike: Global Offensive
  • Whoooaaaaaaa, dude! – Grand Theft Auto V
  • Game Within a Game – Grand Theft Auto V
  • I’m Not Crying, There’s Something in My Eye – The Walking Dead
  • Best Use of a Farm Animal – Goat Simulator
  • Boom Boom – Doom
  • Love/Hate Relationship – Dark Souls III
  • Sit Back and Relax – Euro Truck Simulator 2
  • Better With Friends – Left 4 Dead 2

You can see descriptions of the categories and the other titles nominated at the official Steam award page.  As you can see, there are some dupes in winners and some titles a that are a bit long in the tooth.  You expect that for the Test of Time category, but maybe not for so many picks.  I would have to say that the most fitting winner is probably Goat Simulator, while the biggest travesty is that a Civilization title didn’t win the Just 5 More Minutes category.  But then, I don’t play CS:GO.

On the card front, I collect many cards, voting and running my two queues every day.  I actually managed to craft one badge but that was it.  Going through the queues I did add a couple of more titles to my wish list, so op success for Steam on that, though I am note sure they needed to send me an email about every single item on my wish list that was on sale.

Then, finally, there were games on sale… and unlike the last couple of events, I did actually buy a few items this time around.  Here is what I picked up:

Dirt3 Complete Edition  – $2.99

dirt3completeedition

Probably the best value of the sale for me.  An older title, it looks good and plays well on my system.  While it clearly believes you should have a game pad to play, I managed to make to with the keyboard controls.  In casual mode you can do the tour and steer while the game limits your speed to what will keep you on the track, so you can pretend you’re instantly good at the game… just don’t turn off some of those helpers or you’ll find out how bad you really are.

You get to drive lots of different cars, including retro models (70s, 80s, and 90s) like my old friend the Lancia Delta.  I like the rally courses a lot.  Not too keen on the gymkhana drifting and tricks aspect that are a mandatory part of the tour mode.

It also has a decent replay mode that lets you watch your race again from various angles and will allow you to upload the video to YouTube directly should you so desire.  I have yet to so desire.

Atari Vault – $7.99

atarivault

And impulse buy.  I actually have an old copy of the Atari classics that probably dates from 2000 or so that still sort-of works when I have a burning desire to play Adventure or remind myself just how bad some of the Atari 2600 games really were.  But I figured I wouldn’t be amiss getting an updated version.

Train Valley – $3.39

trainvalley

Purchased on something of a whim, this did not turn out to be quite what I expected.  There was a promise of sandbox play and I had dreams of large rail empires… I mean, look at all that track I have laid in Minecraft.  But the game itself seems limited to one screen of area on which you are allowed to play, so your layouts cannot get too sprawling.  Meanwhile, the sandbox mode is more in the vein of a developers sandbox in which to experiment as opposed to what you might think of as a sandbox in the MMO world.

Simple track layout

Simple track layout

Still, it is a fun little game in its own right and I spent a few hours playing it so far… and as I made it through various challenges I did manage to get more than my fair share of head-on rail collisions.

Prison Architect – $7.49

prisonarch

I did not buy this for myself but for my daughter who, upon learning of the Steam sale, put a few titles up on her wish list and then came over and mentioned this to me.  So I bought her this, and she actually played the hell out of it over the holiday break from school.  It looks pretty good and is one of those systemic process models where feeback loops (positive or negative) quickly make themselves apparent.  So I watched over her shoulder as she built cells, suppressed riots, and tried to figure out why the inmates inexplicably refused to the dining hall.  This has been on my wishlist and I might pick it up for myself the next time it goes on sale.

Stardew Valley – $9.99

stardewvalley

Another one for my daughter, whose wish list is limited by the fact that she has an iMac.  I was actually a bit surprised to find this title was available for MacOS.  I’ve heard lots of good things about it and it made the Steam Top 100 for 2016, a list based on sales revenue, which isn’t bad for a game with a $15 base price.  My daughter started playing it and got into it right away, though she was still feeling the draw of Prison Architect, so went back to that.  But she enthused enough about it that I bought a copy for myself before the end of the sale.  I have yet to launch it, but it is now in my library.

So that was it for the Steam sale.  I was going to buy Doom, which was 75% off, then totally forgot to on the last day and found it full price when I looked back to do it.  Probably for the best.

I did actually buy a few things this time around, but didn’t splurge.  I tried to keep it to just a few items so that I would play them rather than simply collect them.