Cardboard Addiction: Yardmaster Express

Pocket Trains
By Sam Desatoff

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Portability in board games is a strong selling point for me. Games like Jaipur, Sushi Go!, and Star Realms have been finding more play lately thanks to their size. They take up minimal table space, making them ideal for play at parties, restaurants, parties at restaurants, a doll’s table, the backseat of a Smart car, and even a full sized dining table. The time investment is equally small; these are games that play in fifteen minutes or less, which is great for my increasingly busy life. So when I saw Crash Games’ Yardmaster Express on Kickstarter, it immediately appealed to me. Now that the game has arrived and I have several plays under my belt, I’m comfortable in saying that, though it is not perfect, it has become one of my go-to titles when I have a few minutes to kill.

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The rules could not be more simple: choose a card from your hand and add it to your train, matching color or number Uno-style. If none of the cards are playable, you are forced to turn a card over to its “wild” side add it to your train. You then pass the remaining cards to the next player, they’ll draw a new card, and repeat. At the end of the game, your score is the total sum value of your train with bonus points going to the person who has managed to build the longest unbroken string of train cars of a single color.

This simple rule-set is pretty elegant in design, but would be a bit bland without some kind of wrinkle to shake things up a bit. Thankfully, Yardmaster Express includes optional “Caboose Expansions” which offer up bonus points for meeting certain criteria during the game. These lend much-needed variety to each game and I don’t see myself playing without them in the future. Thankfully, there are quite a few in the box.

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The idea that everyone shares the same hand of cards allows for some genuine strategy. Since all players’ trains are visible at all times, it is possible to choose a card from the hand that would benefit an opponent in order to prevent them from having it. If you prefer more strategy in your games, you will probably enjoy Yardmaster Express with fewer players. With two or three players, it can be fun to snatch a card that someone else wants it. With more players, it becomes harder to predict what cards will be in the hand by the time it circles back to you.

Perhaps the biggest selling point for me is the game’s portability. I have taken to keeping it in my backpack and pulling it out between classes at college for a quick game. But why stop there? The game is compact enough to fit perfectly into many of these other settings:

This wide open living room:
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This jacket pocket:

Like a glove
Like a glove

This blender:

Delicious AND nutritious
Delicious AND nutritious

Even an empty parking lot:

It even fits in compact spots.
It even fits in compact spots.

The game also includes this handy drawstring bag but the pictures weren't as funny.
The game also includes this handy drawstring bag but the pictures weren’t as funny.

Other situations in which Yardmaster Express could be playable include:

– Waiting for a doctor’s appointment with a friend.
– During breaks in your House of Cards binge.
– Just kidding, no one takes breaks in the middle of a House of Cards binge.
– Lunch breaks at work.
– At a red light.
– While traversing Mordor on your quest to destroy the One Ring in the fires of Mount Doom.

Yardmaster Express embodies exactly what I want in a small game. It is easy to teach, takes up little room, and plays in about five minutes. I applaud Crash Games’ efforts with this one, and look forward to their next.

Follow Sam on Twitter.

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