With a puff of steam and a powerful whistle, the locomotive begins moving, pulling a train of carriages away from the station, along the rails to its next destination. Like a steam train, the classic card game Station Master – full of player interaction, clever chip placement, and wily card play – is like a railway journey full of excitement. Though its beloved gameplay remains as fun as ever, when Station Master arrives at the platform in 2020, it will have a polished and beautiful new look.
These days, I may be the grizzled and worldly Director of Fun™ at Calliope Games, but way back in 2013, I was brand new to the industry. That year was the first time I ever helped run a convention booth with Ray Wehrs (president of Calliope Games), at New York Toy Fair of all places! I’ll never forget that cold February night at the Irish Pub… Ray was excited about two things: his #1 beer off all time, Innis and Gunn, was on the menu, and he was going to show me one of his favorite games. “Man, I wish we published this game,” he said with intensity as he revealed a well-used box that said, ‘Station Master.’ I love trains, so he had my attention. We played a couple of games right there on the small bar table, and that night I saw why he loved the game so much. Something in the mixture of competitive card play, hidden token placement, and the railroad theme just mixed perfectly. I found myself thinking more and more about the game. But why? It was a nine-year-old game published by Mayfair Games. The overall presentation was somewhat lacking, yet the gameplay continued to show through. Over the years I came to play the game many times with many people, and the reaction was always positive.
I asked designer Chris Baylis recently about Station Master’s origin story. “My game Cats & Dogs was published by a German company,” he said, noting that something crucial in the flow of the game had been developed out. “It was changed beyond recognition. So, I took my original mechanic, changed the theme, and made it better by revising the gameplay.” But why trains? Chris had a quick answer for that. “Train games are excellent placement and resource challenges.”
Five years after showing me Station Master, I got an enthusiastic call from Ray Wehrs telling me that he had acquire the game from Mayfair, paving the way for an updated Calliope edition. “We are going all-out with our version of Station Master,” he proclaimed at the time. “It is going to blow people away!” Just like that, we were off on a journey to create a beautiful new Station Master – the definitive edition of a classic game.
The core Station Master experience has not changed with the updated version. The game is played over a series of turns, ending when all locomotives have left the station. Each turn, players choose to either attach a railcar to a train or assign a Passenger pawn to a railcar. The railcars determine the value of the train – positive or negative! Each Passenger pawn is played face down, so only its owner knows its value. Additionally, Action cards can be played that cause a variety of effects, from removing Passenger pawns or railcars to changing the values of trains! When a Locomotive’s railcar limit is reached, the train pulls away from the station, and players reveal the values of the Passenger pawns. Players determine their score for the train by multiplying the value of the train by the value of their Passenger pawns. (AS a side note, our friends at Thunderbox created a very cool Station Master app for keeping score and adding train whistles that every train game should have—And its FREE! from both the App Store and Google Play.)
“Mayfair created an honest and very playable version of the game,” said Chris Baylis about the original 2004 Station Master. “But their card graphics were not visually appealing.” At Calliope Games, we set out to complement the addictive gameplay with vivid art that celebrated steam railroading. To that end, Ray worked with Calliope Games’ Art Director Andy Hepworth to identify unique vintage locomotives, railcars, and railway imagery. The results were exciting for designer Chris Baylis. “I was delighted when Calliope decided to revise and publish a new version,” he noted. “Ray and Andy's enthusiasm for the game was amazing, as was the fact that Calliope was happy to include some exciting rules variations. This means that players who already own and enjoy the Mayfair version have something new to look forward to.”
As with all Calliope Games titles, Station Master is designed to serve as a gateway title into the hobby, and also be the perfect filler in between heavier titles. I also believe it to be the Calliope title with the highest degree of player interaction – it can be downright cutthroat – but it still maintains an overall fun spirit for 2-6 players. From its beginnings in 2004, the game has proven to be a favorite for both train fans and card gamers. The enthusiasm Ray showed in 2013 when he introduced it to me is shared by legions of others. We are excited to present this beautifully updated version of Station Master befitting this railway classic!
Chris Leder is the Director of Fun™ at Calliope Games. He also designs games, including Roll For It! and Back to the Future: Dice Through Time.