Note: This review originally appeared on The Opinionated Gamers website at https://opinionatedgamers.com/2016/09/13/ticket-to-ride-rail....
Designer: Alan R. Moon
Publisher: Days of Wonder
Players: 2 – 5
Ages: 8 and Up
Time: 90 Minutes
Times Played: > 5
Alan Moon’s Ticket to Ride is among my all-time favorite games, so I was looking forward to the Gen Con 2016 release of its latest iteration, Rails & Sails. This new release features two maps — one for “The World,” the other for “The Great Lakes.” The big change from past Ticket to Ride games is the addition of a second type of route: not only will players be building railways, they’ll also be building routes for ships. There are cards for each type of route, so players need to balance collecting the two when completing their tickets. As discussed below, there are other clever additions to gameplay as well.
The result is a fresh take on the Ticket to Ride series, one with a bit more strategy involved than base the base game. If you’re a fan of the series, this is worth picking up.
The below review focuses on the World map. My review of the Great Lakes map will be published at a later date.
This review assumes some familiarity with Ticket to Ride. If you haven’t played that game, you’re missing out one of the hobby's. For an overview, check out my Spiel des Jahres re-review I published last year, which includes a history of the game:
Each player starts with 3 Train Cards and 7 Ship cards. Once everybody picks their tickets (they take 5 and must keep at least 3), they decide which pieces they’ll have in the game. Everybody gets 25 trains and 50 ships, but they can only keep 60 pieces. As explained below, players can use their turn to exchange pieces in the middle of the game, but they lose one point for each piece exchanged.
Players take turns around the table. On a player’s turn, he or she may:
1. Take travel cards. As in base Ticket to Ride, a player takes two travel cards, or just one if he selects a face-up wild. There are six cards face-up from which players can pick their travel cards. The Train Cards and Ship Cards are kept separate, and when a player takes a face-up card, he replaces it with a new card from the deck of his choice. (If there are ever three or more wild cards, the display is still replaced, using three cards from each deck.) The wild cards are only found in the train cards.
2. Claim a route. To complete routes, players pay either the corresponding Train Cards or Ship Cards. Some rough terrain makes a “Pair” space, which requires two train cards to claim. Double routes are not used in the 2- and 3-player games.
3. Draw tickets. The player draws four tickets and must keep at least one of them.
4. Build a harbor. The player builds a harbor in a city into which he has at least one claimed route. Harbors can only be built in cities with the port symbol. To build a harbor, a player must play two Train Cards and Two Ship cards, all of which must be the same color and have a harbor symbol. A wild can replace any of these cards. Points are awarded if the player has a harbor with completed tickets into it. (20 points for one completed ticket into it, 30 for two, and 40 for three.) Players start with 3 Harbors, and they don’t have to build them, but they lose four points at the end of the game if they don’t.
5. Exchange pieces. The player exchanges any number of pieces with those in the box. The player loses one point per piece exchanged.
Some ship cards are “double ships,” which allow for placement of two pieces. Additionally, it is worth noting that, on the World Map, there is “wrap around” such that the globe truly is round.
In addition to standard tickets, this game also has “Tour Tickets”: these show multiple cities in a particular order. If a player completes the cities in the specified order (i.e. he can trace the precise route), he gets the larger number on the bottom left of the card, but if they are completed not in the specified order, he gets the smaller number. If he fails to complete the card, he loses the number on the bottom right.
Game end is triggered when one player has six pieces or fewer, and at that point, everybody gets one more turn.
After the game concludes, scoring happens, with each player’s final score being their current game board score, plus or minus their ticket scores, plus points from harbors, less points for uncompleted harbors. The player with the most points wins.
My thoughts on the game…
Rails & Sails is a clever twist on Ticket to Ride, and I predict most fans of the series will enjoy where Alan Moon and Days of Wonder have taken the franchise. While the game is still beautiful in its simplicity — yes, you can still play this with just about anybody — Rails & Sails is more challenging than its predecessor, offering clever and exciting twists on the classic gameplay.
Having two different route types makes for interesting decisions. One of the first choices you have to make is one of the toughest: predicting how many Trains and Ships you’ll need to build your routes. Sure, you can exchanges pieces later if you need to, but calling it from the beginning saves you both a turn and a non-trivial point penalty. I go with the recommended allotment, but in at least one of my games a player was able to make a good prediction early on.
The game only gets more interesting from there, with the two types of routes adding to the tension in the will-I-or-won’t-I scramble to complete tickets. Planning and hand management is more carefully rewarded than ever. Like most Ticket to Ride maps, Rails & Sails is more fun at higher player counts because of blocking as the map fills. While the map is not as tight as some recent Ticket to Ride maps, it can certainly feel like it is, especially when you’re trying to complete a Tour Ticket in the proper order.
Meanwhile, you have to focus on the harbors: depending on your tickets, they have the ability to earn you tremendous bonus points, yet they can prove devilishly difficult to complete. The harbors make the wild cards highly prized, and in our games, players are frequently grabbing for them.
My favorite new element of gameplay is the ability to manipulate the available travel cards. Doing this makes the game a bit more interactive… and arguably a bit more cutthroat. Because you can pick which deck the new cards come from, sometimes you can replace travel cards not with those you might need, but with those you doubt your opponent will want. For example, if it looks like a player is about to make the leap across the ocean, it can be fun to crowd the market with Train Cards (although you run the risk of flipping a wild). This doesn’t happen often — and in the end, players can still draw off the top of the deck — but it seems to happen a few times per game.
Because of the new mechanics (which often require more planning), and because each player is putting more pieces on the board (it takes 54 to trigger end game), gameplay lasts longer than the average Ticket to Ride game. The box says 90-120 minutes, which is how long the game will last with four or five inexperienced players, but it took us from 60-90 minutes. There is more downtime between turns, but I didn’t notice it: but because of the increased need for planning, my mind was always occupied.
There is also a slightly larger administrative burden here: you have to ask players which cards they want flipped to the available travel cards, and you have to sort cards into the appropriate discard piles. I noticed because, in my group of players, that burden falls on me to flip the cards. I’m not sure if others did notice, though, and nobody commented on it at the end of any of my plays.
Much ado has been made about the amount of “luck” in this new iteration of Ticket to Ride. These comments seem to be mostly based on the fact that (1) there are now two decks of travel cards, and (2) that the travel card display now could be filled with cards you don’t need, such that you have to resort to drawing cards “off the top.” These arguments make little sense to me for three reasons. First, I find it odd that people would debate the amount of luck in Ticket to Ride, a family strategy game that (a) prides itself on approachability and (b) makes no bones about the fact that some luck may be involved. Second, even if having two decks of travel cards did somehow increase the amount of randomness in the game, that is only one aspect of the game’s mechanics. I would hypothesize that the map and available tickets have a much greater effect on the outcome of the game, and in this particular game, those aspects combine with the two route types to make hand management and careful route planning more important than ever. In my games, the best Ticket to Ride player has prevailed. And third, and most importantly, players have the ability to manipulate the travel card display, which, in my view, actually decreases the amount of randomness involved.
If any aspect of the game increases the amount of randomness, I’d say it is the harbors: they are hard to complete, plus it helps to have several tickets into them. Add in the large amount of points they award, and I do think they increase the “luck” factor.
The new map is beautiful. Illustrator Julien Delval and graphic designer Cyrille Daujean continue to be among the most talented in the industry. The map is also charmingly large: it is just as wide as the 10th Anniversary Map, though not quite as tall. The plastic ships, trains, and harbors are high-quality (even if the trains are thinner than in standard Ticket to Ride), and the game board becomes eye-popping as the players fill it in. At first we found it occasionally difficult to differentiate between train and ship cards, but we adapted after a few games.
My biggest quibble with the game has nothing to do with the game itself: Rails & Sails is well-designed and well-produced. Rather, it is the cost that concerns me. With an $80 MSRP, this is getting to be a bit pricey for a family game. Even online retailers are selling it for nearly $70, just a few dollar short of their price for the Ticket to Ride: 10th Anniversary Edition. Rails & Sails does have a beautiful — and oversized — double-sided map, which does ameliorate my concern over the high price tag. Plus, there are more components and cards here than in any other version of the game. I’d still buy this again, but that price still strikes me as out of the price range of many families.
While my favorite Ticket to Ride iteration is still the United Kingdom map, Rails & Sails is up there in my ranking of the various games. To me, the joy of Ticket to Ride has always come from how tense yet simple the game is. Rails & Sails continues the tradition, arguably even taking it to the next level by making the game more think-y. Throw in the stunningly-beautiful double-sided map, and this could be a hit.
If you like Ticket to Ride, I enthusiastically recommend you check out Rails & Sails.
Great review, Chris.
I'd endorse pretty much everything above. The game has received a bit of bad press recently (I'm looking at you, Tom Vassal) and I fear it might have put a lot of people off. But having played the game (world map), I have to say it was great! Definitely more 'thinky' than, say, TtR:E - which I guess would deter some people, especially those thinking to introduce it as a gateway game - but for me that's a bonus. Also, definitely more hand management required, but again not necessarily a bad thing, it adds to the involvement of the game. Map great, components fine, lots of nice little tweaks/differences compared with other maps. I have only played 2 player so far: I suspect it shines with more but it's still full of tension with two, and we finished in exactly one hour.
Final advice - don't dismiss it until you get a chance to try it.
Thanks for the kind words. I agree: don't dismiss this game until you try it! It has been a big hit with us.
Yes it was a great review. I can't wait to get it either. Ever since I saw that it was coming out I was so excited. Both Maps look beautiful and I look forward to seeing the difference in game-play between the two. I too was frustrated by poor early reviews, but yours and other recent ones have been much better...