The chair creaks as you settle onto it. The candlelight flickers. All around you the ravenous faces of your so-called friends twist in delight as you slowly open the box laid out on the table. Welcome to Dangerous Games! Each week, we'll feature a horror/thriller/monster tabletop game you should be playing. Don't be scared… roll the dice… what's the worst that could happen?
Spectral Rails (Z-Man Games, 2011)
Maybe John Riley got killed in a shoot-out at high noon. Or maybe it was the great fire that burned down an entire frontier town that did him in. Maybe a gold mine collapsed and buried him alive. No matter the cause he's sitting in the coach car of your train. The ethereal tracks are glinting like magic in the moonlight, and it's your job, as the conductor of this ghost train, to see his ghost home.
In Spectral Rails, three to four players take on the roles of ghost train engineers trying to get their spooky riders "home" to the afterlife. Each player has cards they can use to pass through the American Southwest, picking up lost passengers and dropping them off in their home states. The engineer at the end of two rounds with the most souls delivered wins!
Though there are many little rules and tweaks to keep this game complex and mechanically deep, the core mechanic is card-based. You play cards from your hand that are numbered from one to four. These cards represent how many spaces you can move on the board. You collect passengers who want to go to different areas on the map and deliver them.
The real trick to this game is movement on the board. When you move, you leave a trail of ethereal railway tracks behind you. Because the universe is a strange and mysterious place, you can never ride over your own railroad tracks again. You can, however, move on other people's ether trails for free. So there's a sense of backward planning to both move where you need to go and screw over your fellow conductors.
This game has two different maps, but they're not used to change up the game. One side of the board is for three players, and the other side is for four players. The game itself is complex enough, with enough different lines of play, to keep you coming back a few times. But this isn't the type of game that's going to last forever, and I wouldn't be surprised if you only came back to this game five or six times in its entire lifespan on your shelf.
This is a fun take on the classic railroad games. With games like Trains and Ticket to Ride dominating the shelves in board game stores, it's nice to see a horror spin on the genre. Those other train games may do it better… but you're not ferrying dead people to their final resting place in those other games. If you like the theme, you'll like the game.