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Games: Streetcar

Streetcar: The New Orleans Trolley Game is not the best game I own, but it is the game I have had the greatest change of heart about. The first time I played it, years and year ago, everyone hated it. Hated it. I could sense that there was a good game in there, but I couldn't convince any of my original opponents to play it again. So Streetcar hit the shelf, and there it sat for well over a year.

Lord knows why I every tried it again, but the next time I gave it a whirl it was well received by everyone involved. Since then my enjoyment of the game has increased with every playing, to the point where it has clawed its way up into the echelons of favorites.

The Streetcar board shows a greatly abstracted map of New Orleans, divided into a 12x12 grid with a dozen or so "Landmarks" scattered around the board. On the perimeter are Trolley terminals numbered 1-6, with two terminals for each number. A set of like-numbered terminals are always on opposite sides of the board, so if one of the "3" terminals is on the East side the other will be on the West. Each player then gets two cards at random, one of which assigns them a number (from 1-6) and the other which assigns them two landmarks. Each player also starts with five tiles, each of which shows trolley track connecting two or more edges of the tile. The simplest tiles show a single length of track connecting opposite sides of the tile or curving to connect one side to an adjacent side. Other tiles show more complicated arrangements, with tracks bi- or even trifurcating.

Each player gets to put two tiles on the board each turn, with the goal of creating a route that starts at one of their terminals, travels past their two assigned landmarks and ends at the opposite terminal. A tile may be put into any vacant space on the board, but must be placed so that no track leads off the board, no track leads into a landmark, and all track "syncs up" with the tiles that have already been played. All tiles played are "public domain,' which means that any player can use them in their course. The problem -- and by "problem" I mean "aggravatingly fun part" -- is that everyone is trying to build their own routes through the middle of the board, which means that they will be trying to steer the tracks one way while you try and guide them back the way you want.

What makes Streetcar an excellent family game is that while there is plenty of opportunity to screw with your opponents (by placing tiles that divert them from their intended destination), it is also relatively easy to recover from such treachery (by simply re-plotting your course). In other words, you get all the fun of a "mean" game without any of the hard feelings. There is something of a bluffing element as well. At the start of the game you don't know the number or landmarks belonging to other players, and you must therefore deduce them based on where they lay their tiles. If they choose to put a tile or two in a completely bogus location, you may later come along and try to "screw with their course," only to discover that they never had any intention of visiting that part of the city. Sneaky!

It takes a play or two get "get" Streetcar, and some people never enjoy the spatial reasoning aspect of the game (which, while slight, is present). But most folks grow to like it, and may even, as in my case, grow to like it quite a bit.

I don't recall where I originally got my copy of Streetcar, but it's available for purchase at Funagain Games.

Posted on May 09, 2002 to Games