Oddly enough, this is the second train-themed game I’ve looked at this week. You’ll have to wait to see what the other one, but it probably would be hard-pressed to be any less like The Transcontinental.
Quick history lesson, kids. Our non-North American readers probably have their own geographical knowledge of early locomotive history. Our American readers almost certainly hear “Transcontinental” and think of connecting the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads in 1869. But in Canada in less than 5 years, from 1881 – 1885 the newly formed Canadian Pacific Railway built Canada’s first transcontinental railway and Canada’s first cross-country telegram service that didn’t require routing through the US. THAT is what we are talking about with The Transcontinental from Wheel House Games.
In The Transcontinental players are not just building the railway, but also investing and developing the young nation of Canada, as the train opens up new territory to the west. Every player starts with a secret investment goal that they are trying to achieve and an ally who can help them to achieve it. There are more than 30 different allies, each based on real-life historical figures whose lives were changed by the railway, and whose lives, in turn, shaped the history of a nation.
Gameplay starts simply enough, but as the game progresses, the railway goes farther, the train gets longer, and options become more complex. You can reserve actions by sending telegrams out west, when the train arrives at those locations that player takes their actions (often involving loading and unloading resources.) When the train reaches the railhead everyone can blind bid with their resources to extend the line west for points and various bonuses. Then the train turns around and heads back east in a similar manner.
The most common pledge level for the campaign is only $67 (CDN) for one standard version of the game plus most stretch goals. There is also a $360 group pledge for six copies. For people who like fancy, $250 comes with a special wooden box and additional stretch goals. Shipping will be charged later, but Wheel House Games is working to arrange local pickups from retailers to help minimize them.
This is an all-around beautiful game. The art is all inspired by the Group of 7 school of painters. Every element is heavily researched and based on historical fact. Even the smallest details drip with theme, such as the telegram markers being designed in the likeness of an actual telegraph key.
When The Transcontinental won the 2019 Canadian Game Design Award we had the chance to sit down with Glen Dresser and talk about it. That video aired on The Watch, but below is an exclusive extended version of that interview where Glen walks us through how to play. Please excuse the mediocre sound.
**REMEMBER there has been over a year of development since this video, and it features a very basic prototype.**