Good grief, over 2 years in and only now do I review a Ticket to Ride game!? Incredible. Let’s fix that disastrous oversight, right now.
Ticket to Ride Review
Ticket to Ride. It’s really very good.
Rating: really very good
Phew. OK then. On to the expansions.
Now that we are all caught up, there are two new maps in town. The faintly garlic-smelling France map, and the lawless Old West map. And your table might not be big enough for the two of them! No, really, the board is pretty huge!
The France side features a mountain of routes, the Old West can hold up to 6 players. So it doesn’t feel inappropriately large while playing but it certainly makes me wonder how they fit all of Europe onto a smaller board. The rest of the box contains an extra set of white trains for the 6 player side, some new buildings, a ton of map-less cardboard routes and all the destination tickets you need. While a 6 player map is enough to get me interested, it’s the new special operating rules these places bring that we need to focus on. One at a time then!
The France map bulges at the seams with routes and cities to push your knowledge of French geography past breaking point. But what is this! The tracks are not the colourful rectangles we know from real life. They are these strange, wood and metal looking hash grids…
No train can run on those! Before you can claim a route with your plastic trains you need to first build the track. That’s where those cardboard routes I mentioned earlier come in. Every time you collect train cards, you must also choose the colour of a route, laying the corresponding piece of cardboard on that space to indicate that.
Only now can someone (and that does mean anyone) claim that route in the traditional way. This has some obvious implications. If you know where you want to go, claiming those routes early ensures they fit with what train cards you are collecting, but they also telegraph quite clearly where you are thinking of going. And that means someone can nick it! Of course, the longer routes are probably ok. But those 2 train routes are immediately under threat. That. Is. Terrifying on a key route. You have to set the colour a whole round before you can claim it making for very nervous rounds from time to time. Stealing another player’s route is now hilariously mean. No one can pretend it was just an accident, there is the sense of a player claiming ownership when then lay down those cardboard routes.
The threat of someone stealing a route encourages you to build rapidly rather than stockpiling cards. It’s an interesting twist to your motivations where once it was fine to build up a big hand of train cards before sweeping across the board in a few turns of buying. Particularly at higher player counts, where I feel this map is at its best, this just isn’t as practical.
There are some other less obvious effects too. Because the cardboard routes are strictly limited, you can screw people in other ways too. There is only a single 4 and a single 5 in each colour, meaning you can prevent players from using them by sticking them out elsewhere. You can select the colours of key routes before others get there to slow them down. There are also numerous places on the board where potential future routes cross: only one of these crossing routes can be built during the game! This can add even more pressure to decide on a route before other players. There feels like there could be some neat higher level play in this system, especially if multiple players coordinate against a leader.
However, for every positive of this system comes a negative. Adding this extra step every turn dramatically extends the game. These decisions aren’t obvious, and in the “I honestly don’t care” direction, rather than the “ooh this is interesting.” Yes, sometimes these moves really count, but just as often you’ll feel like ditching a random coloured route on the far side of the board. You take far more turns collecting cards than you do laying track after all. The map also feels very large and spacious, so that you really do need lots of players to keep things tense and exciting.
Ultimately I like the idea of France more than I like the final implementation, and I say the same about this map expansion! (Buh dum tcsh!) It adds complexity and, worse, fiddliness without greatly improving the depth. Although there are certainly tense turns, I rarely go out of my way to block players in Ticket to Ride and I think the game rules actively discourage being too aggressive. So I’m still only going to block you if I need to go there too. Likewise the idea of the crossed routes is cool but doesn’t result in the moments of frustration I was hoping to see.
The real test of a new mechanic is whether it creates interesting decisions throughout the game. This does some of the time, but just as often leaves you frustrated at having to place something when you don’t care to, while also slowing the game down. It’s still Ticket to Ride so it’s still fun, but not enough of an improvement over a base game.
Saddle up boys! The stuffy halls of France may not have impressed us but what about the wide open plains of the Old West! This one has proper pre-printed train tracks and everything so I’m already feeling more positive! Plus, just look at the joke potential of some of these city names. I mean, there’s “me and the Boise”, “are you Spokane to me?” It’ll drive you right round the Bend.
But more importantly it mixes up classic Ticket to Ride in a simple but interesting way. Everyone chooses a starting city at the beginning of the game by placing one of their new little plastic station houses in it, and from then on every route you claim must be able to trace a continuous route of your trains back to that city. No grabbing routes at opposite ends of the board from the start, now you need to spread like cracks in ice beneath the feet of an overly ambitious skater, towards your target cities.
This alone is great. It’s a simple change, adding almost no rules overhead, that has quite a large effect on your experience. It really ups the tension when you start at one side of the map and need to reach the other and can only watch as everyone else starts filling in the routes around where you need to go! Naturally most players go for fairly central locations for that reason, but that means everyone starts off squarely in each others way, especially with 6 players!
The choice of starting location is given another wrinkle by the Old West’s other, hilarious, new rule. Those plastic city buildings have another effect, you see. Whenever someone builds into a city with a plastic building, the owner of the plastic building scores the points for that piece of track!! This is devious! The entire map is about stealing points off of each other and it’s great!
Where these city buildings get built fundamentally changes how you view the map. You’re not only worrying about where people build track but where you’re going to be gifting points to your opponents, and how you might avoid it. You’ll risk pursuing alternative routes, or taking shorter routes into these cities even if that takes an extra turn. Or, since you have multiple city buildings, you could spend the extra cards you need to spend to build that city at the other end of the line you’re building. Then both you and your opponent score the points, which is still not ideal but at least you’re not missing out entirely.
It’s a treat! Every new building that gets built causes at least someone to moan and that’s hilarious for the builder, and anyone else. Figuring out where to build your extra stations over the course of the game is really interesting too, as you need an extra pair of train cards, so you at least want to gain some points, but that requires betting on where your opponents will go. The earlier you build the better the chance someone will pass through, but also the closer it will end up being to your starting city and the more chance others have to find an alternative route round.
As a bonus optional add on, the Old West map also comes with a little Alvin the Alien token who starts the game in, where else? Roswell. Anyone building into Roswell grabs this 10pt token and places it in one of their city buildings (ready to be examined). But then anyone building into that city steals the token and puts it in one of their buildings. And so until whoever finally owns him at game end earns the points. It’s a simple, fun addition.
Old West is a great map! Far meaner than normal Ticket to Ride but in a way that encourages you to find different approaches, to rework your plans on the fly. That’s exactly what you need from an expansion. Plus, it let’s you fit 6 players around the table!
Rating: The best a man can get
So! One great map, one at best ok map. Overall a pretty solid expansion for Ticket to Ride fans.