Paul and I played this for the first time in several years, so while the rules were vaguely familiar, we had to review them for the details. As we progressed, I tried to remember what I had liked about the game, which this time seemed rather fiddly. I think there's a good game here, but it is buried within lots of noise which is intended to create realism, but which instead creates distraction.
Now I remember. The thing I like most about TtoT is its built in balancing mechanism that keeps one player from running away with the victory. The winner is not he with the most cash, but he with the most income from the mines in the map at the end of the game. The trick is the game does not end until someone builds track into Sucre, a town in Bolivia which is a long distance away from the starting areas. What happens is the leader in mine income of course wants the game to end. None of his opponents are going to trigger the end game by building into Sucre, so the leader must do so. The route is a costly one, which means the leader expends most of his effort on this task, thereby giving the other players a chance to catch up.
Each turn a player can claim a mine deed. I mostly claimed those which produced more income early, and less later. Paul did not do so, and in fact once opted for $5 cash instead of a mine deed. That put him behind in mine income. At one point, I was getting almost twice as much mine income as Paul, but more of my mines were the type whose output declined over time. I knew I'd have to wisely invest the mine income now so that Paul would not overtake me later.
Then I remembered one of the things I don't like about TtoT: the probabalistic builds. Building track to any worthy mine requires you to build through mountain terrain. The game gives this the awkward name of "probabalistic build". In certain spots this meant I had to roll 16 or more on three dice to find out whether the large sum of money I had already spent toward that track build was successful. Well, 16 even on three dice does not come up often. It took me perhaps 10 expensive tries to be successful. This is a sluggish and frustrating part of the game. There are lots of interesting places to build on the map, but most are so difficult that no one will ever venture there. Meanwhile, Paul was experiencing similar wheel spinning.
Speaking of the map, it has the most unusual shape I've seen for a boardgame. That's the fun part. The downside is the map is cluttered with symbols and details and rules such that there's almost no white space. Some of the data serves no purpose whatsoever. This visual overload is distracting from the game. The quality of many of the other components of the game screams desk-top publishing, which does not bother me, except that the layout of the text needs serious help. Lots of poor choices of text centering and justification make the components difficult to use.
I managed to build through the mountains to my mines, as well as to a few mines Paul had claimed along the route I was forced to take. The fact that a railroad served a mine gave him added income. Around that time, the technology level increased, which cut back the income from many of my early-producing mines. Paul now had almost as much mine income as me. However, I had stockpiled a larger amount of cash, which I invested in the now available smelter mine upgrades.
We had reached into game round 20, which means that we each owned about 20 mines. At the end of each round, each player computes his mine income. The more mines you have the more tedious this gets. "Let's see, I get $2 for owning it, wait, no $3 because of technology level 2, plus $1 because a railroad serves it, plus $1 because it is MY railroad that serves it the line connects to the coast, plus..." Doing this for 20 mines becomes a mind numbing exercise that's not fun. There are just too many numbers, and modifiers, and exceptions.
The rules need a rewrite too, with better formatting. They are written in a matter-of-fact style which gives no indication of their purpose, hence, you must study them all to see how everything fits together. The formatting of the text needs work too. Some bulleted item lists, such as the sequence of steps in a turn, would be helpful. In some ways TtoT is similar to Mayfair's Silverton, but Silverton has a better feel, less frustrating game play, and easier to understand components.
In the end, the smelters gave me the income edge I needed to make the push to Sucre for the win, and we finished near round 25 after some 5 hours. To summarize, the session was too much work for the amount of fun within that time.