The Cardboard Hoard: Review of Whistle Stop
Whistle Stop is a light-medium weight strategy game designed by Scott Caputo and published by Bezier Games, which was first released in 2017. It plays two to five players in 60-90 minutes.
The goal of Whistle Stop is to score the most points, which is done in a myriad of ways -- collecting goods, delivering goods to towns, acquiring shares of stock, purchasing upgrades, and mining gold. Despite these many paths to scoring points, and the volume of components in the box, the rule book is only eight pages long -- laid out clearly and concisely -- and complete with labelled component pictures and a set-up example. This is an important detail, as the game’s set-up is a bit time consuming, and the modular board requires many hex tiles to be added in a very particular, but still somewhat randomized, manner.
Whistle Stop scales between two and five players in two ways -- the number of trains each player gets, and the number of rounds the game will play. In a two-player game, for example, each player will get five trains and the game will last twelve round. But in a five-player game, each player will only get three trains, and the game will end after nine rounds.
All of the players’ trains will start on the right-most, or East Coast, spaces of the board. One column of hex tiles is laid out to the left of the starting spaces, another column of hexes is placed in the middle of the board, and one final column of end tiles is added on the right-most edge of the board. In between these columns is empty space. When players move their trains to the edge of the empty space, they will add new hex tiles to the board from their hands to fill the space.
Players will use coal tokens and whistle tokens to move their trains westward along the train tracks, collecting goods, and stopping at towns and on other special tiles, until they reach the left--most, or West Coast, spaces. Then those trains will be taken off the board and will award the player extra resources. While each player can move up to four times per turn, they are only given two coal per turn to move, so they will need to move strategically to collect more coal and whistles along the way, or lose potential actions each turn. When using coal tokens, players may only move one space and may not head back east, but when using the harder to acquire whistles, players may move eastward, and they may also move two spaces, instead of one.
As for the potential scoring paths, players are free to pursue different strategies, and most will dabble in at least a few of them. One common way to earn points is to collect goods and deliver them to towns. This pays an immediate victory point bonus, as well as a share of stock in one of the five share types. At the end of the game, the majority holder in each of the five stocks receives 15 victory points. Players can also deliver goods to end stops, which are worth high victory point values, and then give the benefit of extra resources for the train reaching the West Coast. There are also upgrades, which are worth victory points and give the player a special ability, and gold mining, which provides gold tokens worth between 3-5 victory points.
An interesting thing that I’ve noticed, once people find out Whistle Stop is a light-medium game with a train theme, is their need to find out how exactly it compares to seminal gateway train-themed game Ticket to Ride. So I’ll address that here -- it really doesn’t. While it is true that Whistle Stop is a next-step game in terms of complexity, and that it does feature trains like Ticket to Ride, the set-up, short and long term gameplay, mechanisms, and goals couldn’t be any different. So I wouldn’t recommend breaking this out in an “If you love Ticket to Ride, you’ll love Whistle Stop” manner.
Pros: The rule book is concise and easy to understand. While the game does not have a lot of artwork, it has a colorful palette and clear iconography, and the overall aesthetic is very pleasant and highly functional. The gameplay is smooth and intuitive, with an interesting decision space that allows for fun combos and different paths to victory.
Cons: The game takes a while to set up. The number of options available to players can cause analysis paralysis, similar to Five Tribes, and I would suggest players prone to this play at lower player counts. The box does not feature an insert, and considering its set-up time, it would greatly benefit from one.
Whistle Stop -- which was one of my favorite board games from 2017 -- blends a unique aesthetic, a fresh approach to the train genre, an interesting decision space, and a number of scoring paths into a high replayable light-medium Euro game that plays in just over an hour. Bezier Games has long been making quality strategy games at this intersection of weight and gameplay time -- Suburbia, Castles of Mad King Ludwig, Colony -- and this is yet another successful entry in that line, earning the company’s tagline of “New Classics.”
Full disclosure: I received a review copy of Whistle Stop from the publisher.