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Hands-on with Pocket Trains
By Mark Brown 10 September 2013
Game Name: Pocket Trains | Publisher: NimbleBit | Format: Android, iPhone, iPad | Genre: Simulation
Did you know that free-to-play airline tycoon game Pocket Planes actually started life as a railway sim but switched tracks midway through development because creator NimbleBit thought "having to travel along the rail routes felt really limiting"?

Well, you do now.

Guess what? The developer behind Nimble Quest and Tiny Tower is having another stab at that railway sim concept.

At first glance, Pocket Trains seems eerily similar to Pocket Planes. You've got the bobble-headed passengers and the pixellated world map. In both games, you have to oversee a transportation empire as you ferry people and cargo around the world.

Playing the game is all about dropping into stations; looking for items and passenger cars that can be delivered along that train's rail line; and weighing up the payouts to try and make the most profitable trips possible.

Pocket Trains

But here's where NimbleBit's talk of "limiting" rail routes changes things... and changes them for the better.

Let's say your European train empire has a blue line that stretches between Amsterdam, Berlin, and Budapest, and a lime green line that scores through Europe, taking you from Berlin to Munich, and on to Milan.

If a big ticket item - maybe a high-paying contract or a crate filled with new train bits - appears in Amsterdam and needs to go to Milan, you can harness the different connections of your rail empire to complete the journey.

So, a cherry steamer takes it from Amsterdam to Berlin, and drops it off in the German capital's train yard. A bluebell steamer picks it from Berlin, and whisks it down to Milan. Job done.

Pocket Trains

Okay, so it's not exactly rocket science. The necessary connections are child's play to figure out, there's no time limit for transportation, and you can keep big ticket items in your yard for as long as needed.

But this does represent a welcome injection of strategic depth. And while Pocket Planes had something similar (in its layover system), it didn't make itself 'known' until you had a global airline empire. Because why bother with layovers when a plane can hop to any airport in western Europe.

Pocket Trains also has time-limited events, where you can earn extra Bux (the game's premium currency) and train bits if you import or export certain items from a specific city. Those force you to think carefully about your jobs and routes, too.

Juggling Pocket Trains's various jobs and events; expanding your international reach; and steadily adding to your fleet of steamers is a thrill. It's probably my favourite NimbleBit game yet.

But it starts to grind to a halt when your first train runs out of fuel.

Pocket Trains

Your engines use fuel as they travel the world, you see. And when you run dry, it's time to pay Bux or wait several minutes. Even adding fuel cars to your trains doesn't help matters much. Ultimately, it means the game has two wait timers: journeys and refuelling.

I'm half tempted to throw a few quid at the game to avoid those frustrating bottlenecks where all progress screeches to a halt. But it's so easy to burn through Bux in minutes when you're using them to open crates, increase your stockyard capacity, boost trains to their destination, and refuel engines.

So, if you want to play Pocket Trains somewhat comfortably, for any length of time, this game might end up costing you more than the UK's high speed rail contract. It's either that or agonisingly long waits until you can next work on your burgeoning railway.

But when it works, Pocket Trains works great. It's a pleasure to see your rickety old steam engine drag a car, piled high with Mapple computers, to Rome and dream about the day when your empire will cover the entire globe.

Pocket Trains

Pocket Trains will be arriving at platforms iOS and Android later this year.
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