Welcome to the Orient Express. We travel through exotic countries and doing so you can profit from all the luxurious services we offer. Some murder may occur, but, don’t worry, you will be fine. Probably.
First Class is a train game. A train themed game. You’re not actually building routes on a board, like you often do in train games. They are giving you the impression of doing so, but it’s more a multi-player solitaire route building experience with cards.
The goal is to get points. You do that by improving your train,making it more luxurious or travel to more distant destinations. There are modules that also allow you to get point for creating train with carriages in a certain order.
Yes, it’s a modular game. In every game you will add cards from two modules to the existing basic stacks of cards. You may add objectives, or you might want to add postcards and celebrities to game, or maybe you are a fan of a good murder mystery, or you like to transport passengers and luggage, or you love to mix things up with technicians and switches. You can mix and match basically.
The game plays over three phases and every phase has its own stack of cards, consisting of basic cards and cards from two modules. During a phase you will play two rounds. At the start of the round you will draw cards from the phase deck until you have three rows of six cards in the middle of the table. During your turn you do two things: choose a card from the offer and then use it. When. from one row, an amount of cards is removed equal to the amount of players, the row is removed from the game entirely.
What are the basic things you can do with these cards. Well, first, you have a locomotive track on you player board which depicts the route you are travelling on. You have to travel along this route with you locomotive meeple, through cities, to gain points or bonus actions at the beginning of a scoring phase. Some cards will allow you to move a certain amount of spots with your locomotive, other cards allow you to expand your route, adding new destinations with new bonuses waiting to be traveled to.
Another track is your train track. Two separate train tracks really. You will expand and improve your train by adding or improving railcars, making them more luxurious. More luxurious carriages give you more points. The only rule is that your cars in both trains have to be in descending order from left to right, which means that a carriage must have an equal or higher value than the carriage to the right of it. Also, you only get points for the value of your carriage if the conductor of that train is located in or already past that carriage. So, you have cards that allow you to move your conductor and you have cards that allow you to add carriage cards to your train or improve already existing railway carriages.
There are also contract cards that give you an objective. When you fulfil that objective you get a bonus. Postcards sent from cities along your routes make the bonus of your routes better. Celebrities make the value of a carriage twice as high. Who doesn’t want to travel with a celebrity? You can transport luggage in your bottom carriages and passengers in your top carriages and when you fulfilled the condition on the card, like ‘the carriage must be of value one’, you get a bonus. Switches and technician cards are placed in between the two trains and also have a condition written on them belonging to two carriages, on in each train, and you also get a bonus, some long-term, others one-time, when you fulfil the conditions of that card.
The Murder Mystery Module is something different. Here you are dealt character cards. You look at the one you received and it might mean that you are the murderer on the Orient Express. Throughout the game you receive clue tokens. You might choose to take them yourself or you have to take them because another player told you so. These tokens, which you keep face-down, depict a bonus or one or more fingerprints. At the end of the game you check which person was the murderer and if he or she got away with it. The player with the most fingerprints, murderer or not, is eliminated from the game. When the murderer is not caught he gets a big bonus.
That’s the short explanation of the game.
What do I think about First Class? Well, I think it’s a really good game. However, I’m starting with something negative.
I do not like the Murder Mystery Module, which means I will never play with that module ever again. First of all, because I play many two-player games. This module makes no sense at all with two players. The only thing that matters then is having the least amount of finger prints, the rest of the cards are not important, as long you don’t get eliminated from the game in the end. And that’s the second thing I hate about this module. You are eliminated at the end. I’m not fond of player elimination, but sometimes it’s fine, sometimes it works. In First Class I did not like it at all. Here you sweat, you think, you try to make everything work for you the best you can and in the end, after an hour, you hear ‘Oh, we don’t care about you, you got one finger print too many, go do something else’. That’s so unsatisfying. Not only if it happens to you, but also if it happens to others. It’s like winning the Tour the France a couple of years after, because some riders blood samples were tested positive on drugs and was eliminated from first place. OK, you won, but what does that victory mean?
OK, enough said about that module. I hate it, now we move on.
What do I like? I like the fact that turns go very quick. Pick a card, place a card, next. This means that your turn will come up quickly, but you still have enough time to think about your next move. Sure the state of the game, the cards on the table, will change once it comes back to you, but there are only a few icons depicted on the different cards. So, you know that if you want to move your conductor this turn that this, this and this card will allow you to. This card is the best option, but if someone snatches it before your eyes, you go for option B. However, it’s still exciting to see if your favourite card gets taken by other players or not, it’s very engaging.
The modules and the possibility to play with a different combination from one game to the other is really interesting and fun. The modules change the game just slightly in a way that they are just variations of each other. You will understand the rules of the new modules quickly once you understand the basic idea of the game and I really like that. You don’t have to change your game plan entirely or learn six pages full of rules when you add new modules, but they do change the game enough to keep it fresh.
The postcards and the celebrities module is the least interesting module in my opinion. They just make you do the same some more. Getting more points or more of the same action. You have to do the least amount of work to get them work.
The other modules are more interesting because they push you more towards a certain direction and make you work more for their rewards. They make sure you specialize, plus you have to meet certain requirements and that’s just more fun.
The passengers and luggage module is cool because you have to meet a requirement and get a bonus. Not very special you might say, but when you get the bonus for a luggage card you triggered, you also get a bonus from the luggage cards to the left of that luggage card. So, when you have one luggage card, you probably want some more and because you then take all these luggage cards, the other players have to focus on something else, something different. Passengers maybe? So, you all specialize.
Lastly, there’s the switches and technicians module. Again you have to fulfil a condition, but with the minor twist that this condition concerns wagons in both trains. Switches give points, technicians upgrades. Switches score every scoring phase. Technicians give you a one-time reward.
The contract, or objective cards are pretty fun as well, but you have to plan a bit more to make them work.
Besides the modules you have two other interesting things in this game. First we have the end-game scoring condition cards. You get one at the beginning of the game, secretly, and you can acquire more during the game. They give you points for a type of card you acquired throughout the game. For instance, get three points per cards that allowed you to move your train meeple. These cards do give you some direction. Like, if you have a card that gives you points for every conductor card you took, it’s better for you to make your conductor move in that way than by triggering conductor bonuses on other cards. Really interesting.
You also have a money track on your player board. Money equals points. but, even more fun, it also equals bonus actions. You always have to fill your money track, which consist of three columns, from left to right, one column at a time. You can spend coins from a column to take that column’s action. This ensures that you constantly have to consider ‘do I wait and get more coins to fill the better action slots with coins before I start taking these actions’ or ‘do I execute the actions as quick as possible with the risk that I never fill my track up enough to get to the better actions’. Both ways work. I have never totally filled up the coin track and always spend coins when I have them. So, I’m only able to execute the place a zero-carriage action, or maybe the move conductor/ train action once in a while, but never the upgrade action. That works for me, but I also saw people focus on filling up their track and enabling themselves to do these better actions more often. Both ways work.
All in all, the game offers many things to think about. It enables you to vary from one game to the other and explore different paths to victory. It’s a good, very fun medium-weight euro. One of the best games of 2016 for sure. At least for me it is. And it has art from Michael Menzel, which is also a plus for me.