The train strategy simulation genre is one of those genres that are not among the most popular video game genres but has a dedicated fan base which has lead to quite a few games being released for the genre over the years. Growing up I wasn’t really a fan of the genre mostly because I had never really heard of it before. As I have started to get to know the genre better it has really started to grow on me. It makes sense as I have always liked tycoon games where you run your own business and laying the train tracks kind of feels like a puzzle game another genre that I love. For these reasons I have looked at several different train games recently and today I am looking at another game in this genre Mashinky. Mashinky has been in early access since October of 2018 and is expected to remain in early access until 2020. Mashinky may have a few smaller issues that need to be polished up, but for this stage of early access Mashinky is already on pace to becoming a compelling train strategy simulation game.
We at Geeky Hobbies would like to thank Jan Zelený for the preview copy of Mashinky used for this preview. Other than receiving a free copy of the game to preview, we at Geeky Hobbies received no other compensation for this preview. Receiving the preview copy for free had no impact on the content of this preview.
In Mashinky you play as the head of a transportation company. You begin the game with some money and a dream of building your own transportation empire. The basic gameplay of Mashinky is to connect various cities, factories and sources of resources together so you can deliver goods between them. You will begin by creating a station at each location which is used to load and unload resources/people. You will then lay railroad tracks between two or more stations in order to create a route to transport the resources between the connected locations. All you have left to do is purchase train engines and attach cars to them. Once the train is ready to go you send it out and it will deliver resources between stations along the tracks you laid.
Having played a couple different train strategy simulation games in the past, this aspect of Mashinky should be quite familiar to fans of this genre. Pretty much every game in this genre utilizes a similar mechanic as this is the main premise of the genre. The genre is built around trying to create interconnected train routes to efficiently transport goods between locations. This naturally involves creating stations and laying tracks between locations to create routes. The track laying mechanics are pretty much what you would expect. You basically click and drag to place tracks on the ground. The game allows you to place tracks in smaller sections or you can just drag between two stations and the game will automatically create a path between them. This “snapping” mechanic works quite well. As long as you give the game a straight enough path or give it enough room the game will be able to make you a pretty smooth path between the two stations.
In addition to making it easy to lay track, Mashinky does a good job giving you the tools to plan out how you want to design the routes. The game basically has two different display modes. One mode is similar to your typical train strategy game as it is a top down view that removes everything from view that isn’t needed to lay tracks. This includes removing trees and other environmental elements that would get in your way while planning out a route. At any time though you can switch to the detailed view where you can see all of the details of the game world including trees and other environmental elements. This second mode even includes an option to ride on the trains as they move along the tracks you placed.
On the topic of views I was actually a little surprised by how good the game looks. I will say that some of the menus look kind of outdated and I hope they are updated for the final release. The top down view also doesn’t show a ton of detail. This is to be expected though as the mode is mostly meant to show you the bare minimum so it is easier to plan your routes. This mode allows you to toggle on various features if you want a little more detail though. I was actually really surprised by the detailed view though as it looked a lot better than I was expecting. It isn’t going to compare to AAA games or the train games built solely around driving the trains. For a train strategy simulation game though I thought the visuals were quite impressive.
Creating train routes between the locations is the main mechanic in Mashinky, but there is also a business mechanic as well. Mashinky treats this area a little differently than you would expect. Instead of just earning and spending money, Mashinky deals in tokens. The first tokens you will receive are money tokens which are used to build tracks/stations and buy trains. As you begin to deliver other goods though you will get access to other tokens. For example when you deliver wood from a forest to a sawmill it will be turned into lumber and you will receive lumber tokens. These tokens along with the money tokens can be used to purchase new types of trains as well as upgrades for factories/resource producers/stations. For example you can purchase an upgrade for a forest that allows it to produce wood quicker.
While this economic system doesn’t make a lot of sense thematically, I actually liked it quite a bit. Being an avid board gamer, this aspect kind of felt like playing a board game. You begin with one type of resource and use that resource to produce other resources. This is quite satisfying as you see your business grow from nothing to a self sustaining business that produces more and more resources. The game could have just used money for everything like most games in this genre and it would have worked fine. The system in Mashinky may not be for everyone but I liked it as it makes the game stand out from other games in the genre. It gives you more interesting decisions than just generating money as it requires you to take goods and refine them into more advanced goods.
One thing that I hope is a little further developed during the early access process is a story/campaign mode. Right now the game doesn’t have much for a story. Basically the only story in the game involves getting missions which include a little backstory. These missions mostly involve transporting a certain amount of goods of a certain type. Mashinky currently utilizes a system where the levels are randomly generated. This adds quite a bit of variety to the game as the routes you design will be different each time you play the game. I hope the game adds a sort of campaign mode though with a fixed map and objectives that you have a certain amount of time to complete. The current sandbox mode is fun, but I wish the game also had a more traditional campaign mode with different levels that you have to complete.
Typically early access games don’t do a great job with their tutorials. This makes sense as it is more important to add features to a game in the early stages rather than teaching players how to play the game. I would say that Mashinky does a good job in some ways with its tutorial but it could do a better job in other areas. For the basic mechanics it does a good job explaining how to play the game. The game gives you a set of short missions to explain the basic controls and how to create your first route. This gives you all of the basics needed to play the game. Outside of the basics though the tutorial kind of leaves you to figure out the rest on your own. Mashinky never really explains the more advanced features which includes running more than one train on a set of tracks. The game kind of assumes that you have a lot of experience playing these type of games. If you have a lot of experience with this genre you shouldn’t really have any troubles. For people not as familiar with the genre though the game has a learning curve with regards to more advanced topics.
I would say that the biggest problem I currently have with Mashinky has to deal with the game’s pathfinding. What I mean by this is that the game doesn’t always seem to handle two or more trains on the same track very well. If you only have one train that utilizes a track there are no problems as the train will go between the stations without any issues. When you have two or more trains on the same track or that share parts of a track though, there will be issues. The problem is that one or more trains will just stop moving to wait for another train. This makes sense if a train isn’t able to move without crashing into another train. There were plenty of times though when both trains could safely move on the track and one or more of the trains just wouldn’t move. I am not sure if this is a problem with the pathfinding as the trains seem to have trouble detecting whether they will crash. Otherwise it might have to do with the fact that I didn’t really understand how to use the signals as the tutorial doesn’t explain how to use them.
Mashinky has a few smaller issues but I have faith that the designer will be able to fix them. The game has been in early access for around a year and it has received pretty regular updates. For this reason I believe these issues will be fixed as additional features are added to the game. For example in the last update the game included stamps. Basically stamps are pieces of track that can be saved that you can then paste in other parts of the map. The game includes a couple default stamps and you can also create your own stamps. This is a great addition as it allows you to quickly copy and paste different pieces of track that you regularly use in the game. For the update on October 6th cars are expected to be added to the game giving you another way to transport goods in the game. This sounds really interesting as it could add a unique twist to the game.
At this point Mashinky shows a lot of potential. For an early access game that won’t be fully released until next year there is already a lot to like about the game. The game’s tile laying mechanics are really good as they are intuitive making it easy to connect locations while also giving you a lot of direct control over where you place track. Mashinky’s economy might be different than other games in the genre, but I really liked it as it reminded me of board games and brings some interesting ideas to the game. The fact that you can switch between an overhead and a more detailed view with the press of a button is also a great addition. The game even lets you ride the trains along the tracks you create. Mashinky could use a little work with the pathfinding and it could give a little more explanation of the more advanced mechanics. I also hope the game eventually adds a more traditional campaign in addition to the sandbox mode. There is already a lot to like about Mashinky though as I had quite a bit of fun playing the game.
Mashinky probably won’t appeal to someone who isn’t a fan of the train strategy simulation genre. Fans of the genre should take a close look at Mashinky though because it is on its way to being a great game in the genre.