Loose Caboose box cover

Keep This ‘Loose Caboose’ on Track!

Gaming Reviews Tabletop Games

Can you keep this runaway caboose from going off the rails?

What Is Loose Caboose?

Loose Caboose is a card-and-dice game for 2 to 4 players, ages 6 and up, and takes about 20 minutes to play. It retails for $13.99 and is available directly from Gamewright or in stores.

Loose Caboose was designed by Michiel de Wit and published by Gamewright, with illustrations by Kwanchai Moriya. It was originally funded on Kickstarter and self-published by the designer under the title Rollecate (named after an actual Dutch steam locomotive), and then Gamewright acquired the rights and gave it a more kid-friendly look.

Loose Caboose components in box
Loose Caboose components in box. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Loose Caboose Components

Here’s what comes in the box:

  • 50 Track cards
  • 4 dice
  • 1 Caboose
Loose Caboose - caboose and dice
The dice and the wooden caboose. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The caboose is a pretty chunky wooden meeple, as you can see compared to these standard-sized dice, so it’s easily visible on the cards (but can also make it a little difficult to see the tracks at times). The dice are custom, with faces that show one or two wheels or a blank face, and they’re engraved and painted.

Loose Caboose track cards
Track cards – there’s one broken track of each value. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

The track cards each show a bit of track, with some surrounding terrain (and sometimes cows or sheep) for a bit of flavor. Each card has a value from 1 to 4, and there are also a few cards that show a broken track.

The whole thing comes in a fairly small box, one of Gamewright’s standard sizes, though as you can see it could have been half the size and still contained everything. (I always like making the boxes as small as possible for the components, both for storage and for transportation, but this one is still very portable.)

How to Play Loose Caboose

You can download a copy of the rulesheet here.

The Goal

The goal of the game is to have the fewest penalty points, which are earned when you run the caboose off the tracks or over a broken track.

Loose Caboose setup
Start the game with three track cards. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu


Shuffle the cards and remove some depending on the number of players. Give each player 2 cards.

Place three cards on the table, connecting the tracks, and place the caboose on the center card—decide as a group which way the caboose will be traveling.

The player who most recently traveled by train goes first.


On your turn, you draw a card, and then you either play cards and roll dice, or you may pass and take a penalty card.

Loose Caboose game in progress
A game in progress. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

You may play any number of cards of the same value, adding them to the front of the track. Then, you roll the number of dice matching the value on the cards you just played. (For instance, if you played several 3s, then you would roll 3 dice.) You may not play cards so that they overlap at all, and you may not make the track a closed loop.

Move the caboose forward one card for each wheel that you rolled. If you reach the last card and still have movement left over, you must take a penalty for each extra movement.

Loose Caboose penalty pile
Since the last card taken was a 3 and matches the 3 on top of the pile, both of them will get discarded and won’t count against me. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

Penalty cards are taken from the back of the track, one at a time, and placed face-up onto your penalty pile. If you ever place a card directly on another one of the same value, you discard both of them. If at any time you must take a penalty card but there are no more cards behind the caboose, then draw them from the deck instead.

When the caboose enters a broken track card on your turn, you must take a penalty card and place it face-down under your penalty pile, so it is permanent and can never be removed.

Instead of playing a card and rolling dice, you may pass—move the caboose one space forward (if possible) and take 1 penalty card. (Note: if this moves the caboose onto a broken track, you also take the face-down penalty as well.)

Game End

When the last card is drawn, that player finishes their turn. Then everyone places any remaining cards in their hands face-down into their penalty piles (so they cannot cancel or be used to cancel others). Add up the total value of cards in your penalty pile. The lowest total wins! In case of a tie, the tied player with the fewest penalty cards wins.

Why You Should Play Loose Caboose

Fun fact: according to the rule sheet, Loose Caboose is Gamewright’s first train game! Considering the number of games that Gamewright has published and the fact that they’re primarily kids’ games, I found that pretty remarkable. And, of course, even with this one, you don’t get a whole train—just the caboose, and it’s trying to get away!

Loose Caboose is a quick-playing game that has a good deal of luck but still allows for a little strategizing. The luck, of course, is in what cards you draw from the deck and the number of wheels you can roll. With only one die, there’s not as much variance—you know the caboose will move 0 to 2 spaces. But if you play 4-value cards and have to roll all of the dice, you could move anywhere from 0 spaces to 8 spaces (though those extremes aren’t quite as likely). I remember one turn when I thought I could get away with playing several 4s to buy myself a bit of track … and then rolled 6 wheels.

But it isn’t all random chance. For instance, one important decision to make is whether to play at all, or just pass and take a penalty card. If you do that, you usually know exactly what penalty card you’re getting (unless the track is down to a single card): is it a low card that won’t be worth too many points? That’s not bad. Or is it a penalty card that will cancel out what you currently have? Even better! If you notice the last few cards on the track match up with the top few penalty cards for the next player, it may be worth taking some penalty just so they can’t cancel out a bunch of their own. Passing also gives you the opportunity to build up some more cards of the same value, making it less likely that you’ll derail when you play them.

It’s not always bad to derail, either—if you see that the next few penalty cards will cancel out cards in your pile (or each other), then it might be a good time to play those high cards, because you don’t have to worry so much about rolling too high. (As Murphy’s Law would have it, those are probably exactly the times you’ll roll a lot of blanks.)

Be careful about passing too often and not playing cards, though: every card left in your hand when the game ends will count against you, so if you’ve been hesitant to play your 3s and 4s, you could end up with a huge penalty at the end.

Loose Caboose - caboose on track cards
This is a very mean move, but it’s legal. Photo: Jonathan H. Liu

One other trick that we’ve discovered when playing is that it’s possible to lay out the track so that it’s impossible to add any new cards, as seen in the photo above. You can’t add any track without cards overlapping—which means that everyone will have to pass, taking penalty cards, until the blocking card has been removed. While legal, this move is likely to earn you some glares—but it’s also one that you can easily count up which penalty cards will go to which players so you know whether it’s worth it.

Of course, you don’t have to put all this thought into the game, either—it’s fun just to play cards and roll dice, and that’s what my 10-year-old does when she plays it, leaning a bit more into the luck side of things and hoping things work out for her. It’s a quick game that you can play a few times in a row, or break out in between longer games.

For more information, visit the Gamewright website!

Click here to see all our tabletop game reviews.

 To subscribe to GeekDad’s tabletop gaming coverage, please copy this link and add it to your RSS reader.

Disclosure: GeekDad received a copy of this game for review purposes.

Liked it? Take a second to support GeekDad and GeekMom on Patreon!
Become a patron at Patreon!