Even if you're not running after members of the royal family with a camera strapped to your big posh noggin, I think basically everyone loves trains, being as they are big magical people movers that can chugga-chug you over an entire country. And not just people! As represented in the lovely voxel maps of puzzle game Station To Station, trains carry freight. Cheese, furniture, steel girders - everything a growing city needs! Laying the rails that connect all of your production chains is, as the UK government will no doubt be quick to tell you, an often-complex affair. But when you get it right in Station To Station you're rewarded by an already beautiful game becoming prettier.
Station To Station is divided into different stages, which are sort of different biomes that feel train-y, and you move on to the next when you've completed enough levels in the previous stage. There are European-ish grasslands with rivers and big interrailing vibes, orange badlands with cities built around oases, and tricky mountains. They all have pre-placed points of production that you need to connect with your iron web, usually all leading back to the cities that squat in different corners of your map like big, increasingly fattening spiders.
Because, you see, each individual level is also divided into stages. You might start with a dairy and a cheesery on opposite sides of the map, a grain farm and a mill in the third corner, and a city in the middle. So you need to connect all the necessary routes up until each supply chain is 'completed', and the buildings send out rings of golden light that bring the map into gorgeous voxel-y life, populating it with horses and putting leaves in the trees. But all the necessary networks must be linked up - the mill needs to be connected to a bakery or it won't have fulfilled its purpose. Neither can a mill be connected to two bakeries; a mill produces 1 (one) unit of flour to make bread. A second mill must send its flour down a new track to a second bakery - and, for that matter, must receive grain from a different farm.
Each time you complete a sub-stage in your map, however, you get a fresh crop of buildings whacked down onto the map, which must become one with your rail network. The puzzle-y bit (which you can do away with in a kind of free play mode) is enforced by a) the fact that you can't move stations or tracks once you've laid them, and b) your money. You get a starting sum of a few hundred coins to place your opening networks with gay abandon, but soon feel the pinch, as an injudicious station placement in the first stage of a level means you have to connect a coal mine in the third stage with either a really long stretch of track, or go down a valley wall with an expensive bridge. Every time you complete a supply chain you get more money, but you get way more if you complete several supply chains with one track.
The dance, then, is whether to spend more now, laying half a dozen tracks that won't offer a return right away, hoping that you'll have the funds to complete your grand plan later, or to play it safe and build your network one load of bread freight at a time. Station To Station balances this by giving you cards to play at each stage, too: maybe a heavy freight train at the right time will double your yield and give you huge profits! If you play a cheap bridges card you can make that shorter valley wall connection and save space!
It is, much like I imagine driving a steam engine in real life, part a delicately balanced machine dependent on planning, and part a matter of hot brute force. The maps are planned so that you'll build yourself into a corner and have to get out of it again. Placing a station, which has four possible connection points, so that it's at a disadvantageous angle of approach to another station, can cost you a lot of money in the long run. At the same time Galaxy Grove give you everything you need to succeed, and prod you to being more efficient. Each level has an optional budget target, and an optional bonus target that might be to keep to a maximum number of bridges, or find and click on a number of camels.
It's also just very nice to look at. You can zoom right in to watch the trains pass one another, loaded with goods, and horses galloping along by the completed tracks. It's a bit like going to a model railway, except one you built yourself. You want to build beautiful railways, you want to build a luxury passenger train that winds around a mountain path rather than smashes down it with a steep bridge. You want to make your great design part of the landscape - there's a level in a forest that rewards you for not destroying any trees (and each tree destroyed in the forest stage costs money). Station To Station is a short but lovely puzzle game, perfectly balanced, and you'll play it in pursuit of a more beautiful engine.
This review was based on a review copy of the game provided by the publisher.