Days of Wonder
Designed by: Alan Moon
2 - 5 Players, 1 - 1 1/2 hours
Review by: Greg J. Schloesser
Just the advance pictures of this new Alan Moon "train" game were causing shivers of excitement throughout the hobby. It was no surprise that such handsome quality should be produced by Days of Wonder. Eric Hautemont once confided that the Days of Wonder approach was to produce games with top quality production standards, feeling that an appreciative public would be willing to pay the few extra dollars for such quality. It seems as though his theory has proven correct.
Ticket to Ride seems destined to be another Moon gem. It seems to be an eclectic marriage of systems merged from Santa Fe, Union Pacific and TransAmerica. Unlike most celebrity marriages, however, this one works -- and will likely have considerable longevity.
The theme is that fans of Phileas Fogg -- that eccentric London gent of "Around the World in 80 Days" fame -- have gathered and announced a new contest. At stake is $1 million to the player who can travel by rail to the most cities in North America in 7 days. Interesting, but the theme pretty much stops there. In reality, players are collecting cards, claiming rail routes and connecting cities. There is some time pressure present, but try as I might, I can't seem to see where that "7 days" fits in! No matter, as the game works smashingly, even though the theme is a bit, well, contrived.
Let's talk components. The extra-large board depicts dozens of North American cities with various train routes connecting them. There are eight different colored routes in all, as well as "neutral" gray routes, and the length of the routes vary from a quick trip of one train to a red-eye route of 6 trains. There is a small scoring chart on the map, as well as a scoring track circling the exterior. Since the board is so large, everything is easy to distinguish and there is no crowding.
Each player is given a collection of 45 brightly colored plastic trains. These trains will be placed upon the various routes in order to make connections between cities. In order to place the trains on a route, the player must collect a set of cards matching the color of the number of segments in the route. The large deck of cards contains 12 cards in each of the eight route colors, plus 14 locomotive cards, which serve as wild cards. The cards are relatively small, but the colors are easy-to-distinguish. A tiny (too tiny) unique icon is on each card to assist those who have trouble distinguishing colors.
Completing the components is a deck of "destination" cards. Each of these cards depicts two cities and a point value. Cities that are located further apart carry a higher point value than those located in close proximity. If players successfully link the two cities depicted on a card, the value depicted on that card is earned as victory points. Indeed, the number of points earned for completing a connection is exactly equal to the number of trains needed to complete the shortest possible route between those two cities. However, if a player fails to connect the two cities by the end of the game, those points are deducted from his score. Boom or bust, so-to-speak.
Players begin the game with their 45 trains, 4 train cards and 3 destination cards. Each player must keep two of the destination cards they are dealt, but may keep all three if they desire. Similar to Union Pacific, five train cards are then dealt face-up, forming a "drafting" row.
A player has 3 options on his turn:
1) Draw 2 train cards. The player may draw the cards from the drafting row, or from the top of the face-down train deck. However, if a player chooses a locomotive from the drafting row, he may not select another card. Of course, a player may attempt to get lucky by drawing a card from the top of the deck, hoping to get a locomotive. If so lucky, the player is not prohibited from choosing a locomotive with his next selection.
2) Claim a route. To claim a route, the player must play a set of train cards that match the color and number of segments in the route. The player then places one of his trains on each segment in that route. Neutral gray routes may be claimed by playing a set of identically colored cards, so these are a bit easier to grab. A player may only claim one route per turn.
3) Draw Destination Tickets. The player draws three destination tickets. He MUST keep at least one, but may keep 2 or 3 if he desires. The points earned from successfully completing destinations can be significant -- as can the penalties for failing to do so. Choosing whether to select new destination cards AND choosing which ones to keep can cause some anxiety. Although it would seem wisest to select destination cards early during the game in order to give yourself a chance to make the required connections, I've seen some players grab cards late in the game and successfully finish the links. This tactic is certainly riskier, but does make some sense as a player has likely already developed a rail network from which he can make short connections to the necessary cities.
When a player claims a route, points are scored according to the following table:
Route length Points Scored
Longer routes are certainly more lucrative, but it takes longer to accumulate the cards necessary to claim the route. During this time, several smaller routes may have been claimed by opponents, making it more difficult for a player to link the cities on his destination cards. Again, another choice: go for the shorter routes in order to build a network of connected routes, or try to amass enough cards to claim the larger routes and earn more victory points.
It is worth noting that there are two routes between several cities. This helps prevent the game from being too brutal and allows more players to make needed connections. However, there isn't an abundance of these two-route connections, so there is still ample opportunity to play defensively and deny opponents routes they seem to be seeking.
Once one player reduces his supply of trains to two or fewer trains, every player gets one more turn, after which the game ends. The player who possesses the longest contiguous route of trains receives a ten-point bonus. Each player then reveals his destination cards, earning points for they have completed and deducting points for the ones they failed to link. The player with the most points has emerged as the champion of the competition.
Ticket to Ride is being promoted as being so easy to learn that the rules could be written on the back of an actual train ticket. Unless the ticket is very, very large, this may be stretching the truth a bit. Still, there is no denying that the game is easy to learn, easy to teach, and easy to play. But don't let its ease fool you. There are some very interesting things going on her, and players are continually faced with some nagging choices. Much of the anxiety experienced is similar to that experienced in Union Pacific, another Moon design. Do you choose new cards on your turn and risk having an opponent claim the route you desire, or do you go ahead and claim a needed shorter route and forgo grabbing those extra cards you need to extend your set? The time pressure may not fit the "7 Days" in the story, but rather relates to the risk of having an opponent claiming a route before you do. Further, there is a time pressure to complete the links on your destination cards before needed routes are claimed or the game ends.
These decisions are just a few of those faced by the players. There are numerous others, all providing a degree of angst. But it is a good angst, the type that makes games so deliciously appetizing.
The comparisons to TransAmerica are unavoidable. Yes, the game does have some similarities and some of the "feel". However, it is certainly more complex and richer. Does that mean, as one reviewer has claimed, that one will never play TransAmerica again? I don't think so. The games are sufficiently different to warrant having both in my collection -- and have both see table time. Even though both are high on the "easy to learn" scale, I think TransAmerica is the easier of the two to both learn and play. TransAmerica will still likely appeal more to casual gamers or family, and fits the "filler" role more snuggly. With gamers, though, Ticket to Ride will likely be the preferred ticket.
Even though both are high on the "easy to learn" scale, I think TransAmerica is the easier of the two to both learn and play. TransAmerica will still likely appeal more to casual gamers or family, and fits the "filler" role more snuggly. With gamers, though, Ticket to Ride will likely be the preferred ticket.
Exactly. A nice unbiased review Greg.
After 100+ plays and teaching this game to perhaps 50-60 people it's a credit to the design that I will still cheerfully play it if it's requested.
Insofar as T2R being a GateWay Game... it's easily the best intro game on the market to bridge the wide chasm between monopoly and the world of meatier board games. Transamerica is easier to teach but once learned doesn't seem to generate the same willingness in the newbie to rush out and buy a copy.