In a way, management sims are effectively large scale puzzle games where your goal is to gain progress or unlock the next set of upgrades using the tools you have available, running the risk of failure due to various constraints that are in place.
It’s fitting then that Train Valley is effectively a management simulation that scales everything down the the very basics.
But is it any good?
Many thanks to BlitWorks for the review code.
ONE TRACK MIND
First of all, I’d like to clarify that this game is absolutely not a management simulator even if it does share some of the same gameplay elements. Train Valley is a puzzle game first and foremost, where the main goal is to get through each scenario guiding the trains to the appropriate station without running out of money. There is a sandbox mode of sorts, but even that is nothing like a management simulator. If you are after that style of gameplay, go buy Railway Empire instead.
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s get into what the game actually is. The game’s 30 levels are divided into 6 stages over five different regions – Europe, America, Russia, Japan, and Germany. Each level plays essentially the same, but the changing landscapes and structures all provide different challenges, as will the limited budget at your disposal.
Starting out, you’ll typically only have a couple of stations, which you will need to connect with railroad tracks. Each part costs money, so a direct route between the two is generally advisable; however, obstacles such as trees and structures will cost money to demolish, so sometimes it can be more effective to go around them instead. With your stations connected, you can then set the trains running: a symbol will appear at stations where a train is waiting to leave, and its colour will indicate which station it needs to travel to. You can speed up or pause the gameplay as you see fit, so there’s little stress with managing any of this.
Soon, things will get trickier as more stations get built, requiring you to connect them all to the same network, ensuring that every station is accessible to one another. With multiple trains wanting to leave at once, you need to take care that they don’t crash into each other, and you switch track directions as appropriate so that they all get to where they need to be. If you think you can do them all individually and take your time, you are going to be in for a shock: every in game year (and they pass fast) will deduct money from your account, so you need to ensure you get as many trains as you can to their destination as fast as possible to ensure your income keeps you afloat. This is most important in the early game when your funds are low, and mismanagement could see you bankrupt. It’s a pretty satisfying gameplay loop, even if most of the levels feel quite similar to one another.
NOT AS HARD AS IT STEAMS
Controls were something that I had issues with at first, since the cursor isn’t freely controlled by the player. Instead, it flicks between certain objects depending on which management mode is active. If you want to select a station, you simply press the right trigger to get to the right management mode and then the cursor will only move between the stations. Once you get used to it, it becomes pretty intuitive and makes things far simpler, but it does feel weird at first. Building tracks can still be a little fiddly unless you move slow, but it’s manageable at least.
Aside from your primary goal of getting the trains to where they need to be, each level also has three challenges for you to achieve. These differ for each stage, and some can be quite tough to do – especially in the later stages. These challenges don’t really do anything other than give you something to work for, but it’s nice they’re there. I would have liked some unlockable stages or skins as a reward, but being skilled is its own reward, I guess.
Regardless of the lack of variety, it’s still quite a relaxing game that offers enough involvement to keep you interested whilst not being particularly challenging to get through. Beating each stage allows you to play it in ‘sandbox’ mode, but as it does little more than remove failure states, it’s actually quite unfulfilling to actually play. A more fleshed sandbox mode to play around would have been ideal, but there are still plenty of levels here to keep you busy for a while.
If you’re looking to choo-choose a relaxing puzzle game with a railway theme, Train Valley may be just what you’re looking for. There may not be a huge amount of depth, but the simple and compelling gameplay loop should offer a decent amount of fun for the low asking price.