The Last Spike is a game about laying train tracks, and grabbing shares.
The board is placed centrally and shows a series of routes from the west(Sacramento) to the east (St Louis), connecting with other cities on the way. Players each take some money and four sections of track from a bag and keep them to themselves – every section of track has only one specific place it can be laid, and on your turn you always begin by laying one piece of track. Laying track costs between $1k and $6k depending on where it’s being laid, and if possible you must start next to a city, or continue a track that has been started next to a city – just like real life, starting a train track in the middle of nowhere isn’t the done thing.
Having laid track you then have the option of buying* shares. Every city has associated shares and these pay out whenever a route is completed to a neighbouring city. As there are only four sections of track between cities, you might think this is a frequent occurrence. However, players will usually want to forestall payouts until they will get more than the other players.
*the first available share in each colour is free, so building next to a city early in the game gets you off to a good start.
Play continues until there is an unbroken link between Sacramento and St Louis, at which point the player who put in the last section of track (the last spike!) gets a $20k bonus. The player with the most money wins.
There is a collaborative element to The Last Spike – if you buy all five shares in a city, you can guarantee no-one will help that city pay out unless they absolutely have to – so the balance is really in ensuring you have just the edge over your opponents; perhaps you have two shares and everyone else has one, for instance.
Although the rules are very simple, winning is less straightforward. There are a few questions to consider; where to build, which share to buy (if any – towards the end of the game you may be gamvbling ob seeing any return at all), and most crucially of all, grabbing the last spike!
I like the simplicity of it and the tactile nature of the pieces. There’s always something satisfying about building something, although with The Last Spike that satisfaction is increasingly laced with the tension of missing your moment. For me it doesn’t have the in-depth satisfaction of Railways of the World (my go-to train game) but it is rather more accessible in terms of rules.
The Last Spike is very family-friendly, but I’d say it’s not really a train game so much as a simple stocks and shares game. The strategy is in evaluating what cities you can force to pay out from the tiles you have in front of you, and making sure those payouts favour you over your opponents – which you’ll need to do a turn or two in advance. The game cleverly forestalls the ending – the player to build the last spike will get a hefty bonus, but since everyone wants to be that player, no-one wants to lay the second-to-last tile.
The amount of luck might put some more serious gamers off, but it plays so quickly it’s hard to begrudge it…
Very little Take That - there's no combat or train robbery. There is luck in the game though, as what tiles you're drawing from the bag dictate your tactics.
Low. There's only two decisions to be made by everyone - which track to lay, and which share to buy (if any). Beware that if you run out of cash you have to sell shares in order to fund your track-laying!
Low for the most part - build track, buy a share. There may be some hedge-betting toward the end though as you gamble on which connections will be made (if at all) before the game ends.
Simple rules, fast play and randomness guaranteed from the bag.