If you’re the type who juggles freemium games on your phone throughout the day, you may be familiar with the “rotate-and-wait” tactic: open an app, play your moves, open another app, play your moves, wait. Because these types of games—Deer Hunter 2014 and Clash of Clans being prime examples—often require time for energy to refill or structures to be built, players spend a lot of their time waiting (or a lot of their real money to speed things up). Pocket Trains takes this model to the extreme, but it does so in a cheerful manner that makes the waiting bearable.
Pocket Trains comes to iOS and Android from NimbleBit, the developer/publisher that put out Pocket Planes last summer. Pocket Trains borrows liberally from its airline counterpart, but the strategy-based play is slightly more complex this time around. A business simulation at heart, the chief objective of the game is to turn your regional cargo enterprise into a multi-continental railroad empire. This is done by acquiring parts to craft new trains, purchasing additional rail lines, and shipping wacky merchandise like giant cola bottles and wind turbines to major cities around the world.
A cute premise and overall aesthetic are where this game shines most brightly. As with previous NimbleBit titles like Nimble Quest and Tiny Tower, Pocket Trains’ art design has a colorful, cartoon-like quality to it. The game is largely devoid of any real narrative, but its job system and map feel surprisingly alive. As resistant to the free-to-play model as I generally am, I found myself sneakily playing Pocket Trains at more than one social event.
When it comes down to actual mechanics, however, Pocket Trains leaves quite a bit to be desired. The only game mode available—campaign mode—is frustratingly slow to take off. With only a few trains and railroads to start with, earning in-game currencies demands sage-like patience. Faster trains are rare to find and expensive to build. Unlocking new continents can take days to save up for. All in all, I seemed to reach a stalemate with the game around six hours in because I refused to dish out more real cash. While I certainly appreciate those who enjoy this style of play, I ultimately found it more tedious than entertaining. I would much rather pay $5 for this title up front than slowly buy my way to victory.
Infinity Blade III
Deveoper / Publisher: NimbleBit
Platform: iOS / Android
Release Date: 09/26/13