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Railway builder Station to Station harnesses the joy of minimalism

Choo choooooo

A cottage with a train running by it, rendered in bucolic voxel art. Image: Galaxy Grove\Prismatika
Nicole Clark (she/her) is a culture editor at Polygon, and a critic covering internet culture, video games, books, and TV, with work in the NY Times, Vice, and Catapult.

Some of this year’s best games boast a lot of complexity. Baldur’s Gate 3 is stacked with complicated menus and endless narrative and combat possibilities; The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom gives players a litany of ways to solve puzzles thanks to copious Zonai Devices. These games are among my favorites — but they’ve also instigated in me an equal and opposite desire for simplicity, for games with slimmer game mechanics and more leisurely play, like Dorfromantik or Unpacking.

Luckily, the railway builder sim Station to Station nails that simplicity. The game harnesses the very tactile pleasure of railway placement, and sets it against an absolutely gorgeous voxel art style. The rules are simple: Build stations and lay down tracks between outposts that each require and produce distinct goods. Connect a mill to a bakery, then loop that all to a city. As each successful connection is made, you make a little money — which you then spend to lay down more stations and tracks. Longer tracks are more expensive, as are tracks that require a bridge (for example, bridging the gap between two cliff faces.)

Where other laid back strategy sim games might push players into greater levels of complexity, Station to Station delivers on its premise of minimalist ease. Outposts that are essential to another’s production don’t have to be connected sequentially; outposts just need to be connected somewhere along the same train loop. For example, your track doesn’t need to go from wheat farm to mill to bakery to city. You could instead arrange it mill to city to wheat farm to bakery, and you’d still beat the level. Sure, you can make the game more complicated by attempting to win “stack bonuses” — which award players for connecting outposts in a certain order — but I’ve largely avoided doing so, in favor of having a smooth time.

Instead, I spend a lot of Station to Station playtime simply zoomed in on my trains trucking along. You can zoom in enough to enjoy minute details of the voxel-style art — from the little houses around a city hub, to the voxels comprising trees. The sound design only aids this sense of calm; laying down tracks is accompanied by a crisp sound, and success comes with a nice jingle of earned coins. It’s a deeply pleasant time, perfect for decompressing or achieving a flow state while watching trains glide by.