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Subject: Expedite -- a family gaming review rss

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Jeff Warrender
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Note: This is the fourth in a series of reviews that are written with specific attention paid to the considerations of the game for a family setting – specifically, for families with kids older than 6 and younger than, say, 12. I’ll probably start a Geeklist for these at some point, and will update this review with a link when I do.

Disclosure: Turnham Games graciously provided a copy of the game for us to review.

Introduction

Every so often, a game comes along that takes the gaming world by storm, wins major awards and accolades, and secures its place as a game of distinction, to be studied and emulated and expanded and varied for years to come.

The game I’m describing, of course, is Ticket to Ride, but to be honest, Ticket to Ride (TtR) never completely grabbed me – not because it’s too light for a gamer’s game, but on the contrary, because it’s not entirely light enough, and because too much of the game is spent drafting cards.

Expedite was designed by gamers who clearly played and loved Ticket to Ride. Expedite is, at a cursory glance, TtR but with players claiming nodes instead of routes. If this were the only difference, then I’d give Expedite low marks for originality, but Expedite has two crucial differences that turn out to make all the difference. More on those below, but the changes conspire to make a game that is easier to teach, more engaging, and ultimately more fun than Ticket to Ride, and one that serves as an excellent gateway for kids or non-gamers who haven’t graduated to TtR yet.

Gameplay intro

The turns in Expedite are super-simple; you just do one of three things:

1. Draw the two face-up “plane” cards or three face-down “plane” cards.

2. Pay plane cards in the color and amount required place your marker on a city. There are five colors (+ wilds), and cities require a base outlay of 1-3 cards in the city’s color. Here is the game’s first innovation: unlike in TtR where your trains stay put once placed, in Expedite you can take a city away from another player, by paying double the standard placement cost if yours is the second token there, or triple if yours is the third, and so on. In this way, the board state is highly dynamic, and it’s hard to hold permanent control over a city. This adds a confrontational element to the game, but it’s not always actively harmful to have someone take “your” city away. Some cities are easy to let go of, while others are devastating when lost; it just depends on what “world trade” cards you hold. Speaking of which:

3. Reveal a “world trade” card showing two cities on the board and a Victory Point (VP) payout. You must own the start city, and must be able to trace a route between the start city and the finish city that consists entirely of occupied cities. But here’s the second and crucial innovation over TtR – you don’t have to control all of the cities on the route. For each leg of your journey that passes through a city owned by another player, you decrement your VP payout by an amount indicated on the board, and give those points to the player who owns that city. I love semi-cooperative scoring elements like this. This consideration becomes an especially important consideration late in the game, because first across the 100 VP finish line wins; you have to ensure you’re not helping another player to win!

Thematic considerations

As far as I can tell, Expedite is a game about shipping goods around the world, and is intended to illustrate how global interconnectedness accelerates the shipping of goods and the opening of new markets. The theme is extremely thin and doesn’t really come through in the game’s mechanics at all. It hurts the buy-in of the game a bit; when asking my daughter to play, she asked “what’s it about?”, and my inability to give a clear answer didn’t increase her enthusiasm for the game, although she eventually gave it a try and was glad she did. It’s also somewhat strange that players have plane pieces that don’t move, and pay plane cards to control cities. So the theme, thin as it is, doesn’t even seem consistently evoked by the game elements. I haven’t mentioned the theme at all in teaching the game, and I think that’s for the best.

Skills that the game teaches

Although the pieces don’t move, Expedite is actually a route planning game – you’re trying to figure out how to max out the payout you get for a World Trade card, by occupying as many of the cities as you can on the path. Because many of the cities will be occupied by other players, you have to evaluate whether you can afford to give up points to use other players’ cities, whether you should use a more circuitous route that uses more of your own cities, or whether you should try to take over a couple of the other players’ cities. It’s a good introduction to other route-planning games like Elfenland.

You’re also trying to emphasize World Trade cards that work with your existing “network” of cities, so the game encourages development of tactical thinking. When you draw a World Trade card, you have to evaluate whether you can make it work or not. For starters, you have to own the start city; do you own it, or can you get it? How long will it take you to put the route in place for that card, and is it possible/likely that the ownership of one or more cities will change hands before then? Evaluating the game situation is important for players who will soon graduate to Ticket to Ride or Carcassonne.

Educationally, the game provides a brief introduction to world geography and some possibly unfamiliar cities – and their pronunciation (hint: Caracas != “carcas”!)! Also, there’s some math in assessing how many points you’ll give up by using other players’ cities to score a World Trade card, and this is a good preparation for deal-making games like Chinatown, where you have to determine whether you’re giving other players a better deal than you’re keeping for yourself. It’s also a good prelude to highly interactive games like Puerto Rico where you have to determine whether the role you select will help other players more than it helps you.

Things they might find difficult

Finding the cities on the World Trade cards is difficult for younger players because the cities are unfamiliar – does anyone know many 9 year olds who know where Ulon Bator or Caracas are? The cards show the physical location of the start and end cities, but it’s so zoomed in that unless you know exactly what the coastline of India looks like, it’s really no help in identifying Mumbai. This actually creates a big problem, because keeping the location secret is important to preventing other players from blocking you; so when they ask for help in locating a city, they’re also giving away crucial information. Hopefully with more plays of the game this becomes less of an issue.

The scoring cards in the game are an all-or-nothing affair, and it’s important to plan your way all the way across the finish line. We had one game where our younger daughter had accumulated 99 points, but no one used her cities in their World Trade routes afterward (to avoid pushing her over the edge), forcing her to set up another World Trade card; but, she ran out of time and another player passed her. She came close, but the distance between 99 points and 100 points is no closer than the distance between 85 points and 100 points – it just all depends on your ability to score World Trade cards.

The ability to use other players’ routes is counter-intuitive to kids’ gaming experience. Our girls tend to favor World Trade cards where they can own all the cities on the route, or they will try to acquire all of the cities, sometimes at great expense, rather than just give a couple of points to another play. This evaluation – the trade-off between effort to take a city vs. cost to give the points to the other player – is central to the game’s skill, so it’s important to just remind them that they don’t have to own the whole route.

I’ve also found that they sometimes view the World Trade cards they draw as mandatory, but the game has a rule that allows you to discard and draw a World Trade card. It’s good to remind them of this periodically, lest they go to great lengths to try to score a card that they’re really not well-positioned to take.

Ways they might surprise you

The biggest surprise is how well they can do at the game – I have yet to win! The other element of surprise is simply that, as previously mentioned, the scoring is highly fluid. One player may be sitting at 95 points but without a viable World Trade card, whereas another might be at 70 points but is a turn away from being able to drop two 15-point World Trade cards. You just don’t know; your child may be sitting on a big come-from-behind victory! These reversals of fortune can be a fun surprise for the winner, but for the player who was an inch away from winning, it can be disappointing. But, it provides a good opportunity to discuss being a good sport, not taking the outcome of the game too seriously, and other valuable life lessons that games can provide.

Variations you might consider to make the game easier

Playing with open World Trade cards for the first couple of times through could soften the learning curve associated with the geography. (Playing with another, non-playing older sibling or adult handy to answer geography questions could accomplish the same thing).

Conclusion

I’m impressed with how Expedite has taken a successful framework and created a unique and fun gaming experience. Expedite is easy to learn and play, and cultivates numerous gaming skills that will prepare younger players well for other, more complex games. Because of its highly interactive gameplay, it’s also a good alternative to light games like Dominion or Ticket to Ride as a “warm up” game on game night.
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Tomello Visello
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jwarrend wrote:
We had one game where our younger daughter had accumulated 99 points, but no one used her cities in their World Trade routes afterward (to avoid pushing her over the edge), forcing her to set up another World Trade card; but, she ran out of time and another player passed her. .

That part right there is instructive, and is so even beyond the realm of "considerations of the game for a family setting,"

The game is a race.

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