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Review: Ticket to Ride: Rails & Sails

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Ticket to Ride has been all over the world; the US, Asia, Europe, Switzerland. But up til now, you haven’t actually been able to globe trot the whole world at once. ‘Course, there’s no way to make the full circumference on rails alone. In Ticket to Ride: Rails & Sails you’ll need to build shipping lanes for ships in addition to rails for your trains in order to become the greatest world traveler of all time.

How It Plays

Hopefully you’re not surprised to hear that Ticket to Ride: Rails and Sails retains the core elements of the basic TTR game: one action per turn; choosing between drawing cards, playing sets of trains, or getting new tickets; and scoring points by connecting two cities across the map based on your tickets. Of course, with two new maps come just a few new twists to the formula.

These lakes are great!

Front and center would be the “Sails” part of the title, which refers to ships. Although, I think the ships here are steam powered, so not so much sailing… but I digress.

Ships are much like trains in the way they are played – one card per space in a connection. The catch is, some connections require rails while the others require the sails. You’ll need to collect Ship cards separate from Train cards in order to actually play those ships on the board.

You still have 6 cards to choose from, but they’re split between boats and trains. When you take a card, you choose which deck from which to replace it. Only the Train deck has wild cards in it (which can be used for ships or trains), but the Ship deck has Double cards which count as two cards of the corresponding color.

Insert Beatles joke here

You start with a mix of Train and Ship tokens, and when one runs out you can’t place connections of that type anymore. However, you can spend a turn (and sacrifice a few points) to switch out tokens if you really need them.

If you wanted more ways to score points, Rails & Sails has got ’em. Now you can build Harbors on any coastal city you have a connection into. If you have a completed Ticket listing that city’s name, your harbor is worth 20 points. If you have multiple tickets with that city name listed, you can increase the Harbor’s value to 30 and then 40 points. If any of your three harbors are unplayed at the end of the game, however, it’s -4 points each.

Welcome to Milwaukee harbor!

A few final twists: the World Map actually wraps around from edge to edge, so you can make connections that jump from one side of the board to the other. You’ve also got “Pair routes” which represent difficult terrain, and requires pairs of cards per space of the connection. Finally, multi-destination Tour tickets may have 3to 5 cities listed on them instead of two. Connect all the cities shown for points; connect them in the right order for a little bonus. These cards often make it easier to boost your harbors, too, since they have so many city names on them, but failing to complete the ticket costs you more points than you would gain.

The game begins to end when a player has fewer than 6 tokens left between their trains, boats, and harbors. Then everyone gets two more turns before the game actually ends.

Some of the Tour tickets

Around the World in 80 Days

Ticket to Ride is Ticket to Ride is Ticket to Ride and you can’t change that, but wow do those harbors mess with your normal strategies. It’s twenty points for one harbor; twenty points! That rivals a single long-route ticket that takes two thirds of the game to finish, and a harbor only takes 4 cards to play.

When I teach this version of the game, I’ve found that I really have to pound that idea home. People tend to get immersed in the whole ticketing-and-riding thing, forgetting about their harbors til the end. But there’s 120 potential points on the line (132 if you account for the points lost for unplayed harbors), and that alone is a competitive score in a normal game of TTR.

Also, check it: the longest single connection I’ve ever seen on a TTR game: 9 spaces long. Yikes!

There’s a funny side effect to this: it makes Rails & Sails players more isolated from each other. See, if you have Cairo on three of your tickets, you’re going to want to build a harbor in Cairo – but it’s far less likely anyone else will have Cairo on their own cards because you have all the Cairos, so they won’t be after it. I’ve never seen anyone steal another player’s prime harbor, even by accident, because of the way those odds work. I’m sure it’s possible and I’m sure it’ll happen eventually, but mostly it just doesn’t.

Meanwhile, the main feature of the game – the rails AND sails – doesn’t do nearly as much to change things up. What’s a boat if it plays exactly the same as a train? Well, okay, it messes with your train-card-snatching strategies a little bit. Two types of cards compounds the potential bad luck of not having any colors you need visible with the possibility that the CORRECT colors will be there but they’ll be boats when you need trains. It’s a funky little brain teaser as the only way to add more boats to the spread is to take train cards. But you don’t want those train cards, do you? So now what?

There are many ways across the Atlantic Ocean

Planning ahead becomes essential here, even more than before. You actually might need those train cards at some point in the future, so maybe you should take one and replace it with a boat.

Speaking of planning ahead, the mix of ships and train tokens forces you to think through your routes. I’ve played games where I suddenly had to rethink my strategy because I was taking a route that used more trains than I possessed, and when I looked at it from a different angle I was able to get to my destination more easily with ships. I’ve had games where I thought I was in big trouble until I saw another way around using the other type of token.

When I first read the rules, I was not thrilled about the idea of having to spend turns to switch out ship and train tokens, but in practice? It doesn’t bother me. The mixture simply forces you to think and plan and strategize a little bit more and fly willy-nilly across the board a little less. On the other hand, I ignore the rule that allows players to determine their mix of ships and trains at the start of the game, and simply stick with the default. It’s nearly impossible to make a better guess of where you’ll end up, and I’d hate to waste ten minutes before even starting the game while people try to calculate their routes.

A Pair Route

The double-boat cards add a neat twist on the deck, which I really enjoy. You don’t always need them, but they are fun to grab and they don’t take up your whole turn like wild cards. It makes it easier to grab those 7 or 8 length ship connections which are still worth 18 or 21 points. Plenty of those long connections are available on the board (including a massive 9-link connection for 27 points on the Great Lakes map, which is actually a Rail so forget those double cards) and you’ll need to grab some of them if you want to stay competitive.

With all these long connections and the harbors, your point tallies will rocket into the stratosphere. You thought the score tracker was too short before? It’s woefully inadequate now! Would’ve been nice if they included a few tiles to remind yourself when you went another 100 points up, because scores nearing 400 are not out of the question.

Still not enough

However, that feature might be a bug, depending on how you look at it. Original TTR is a tight race with limited track, adding a lot of weight to every ticket card you keep. You fail to complete a ticket, you’re probably not winning the game. In Rails and Sails that is far less true. Fail a ticket! Fail two! You can easily make up two or three incomplete tickets if you claim enough Harbors and 8-link connections. Weird, right? This is another reason you won’t worry too much about getting in other players’ ways, because, who cares?

The World is a massive map, very ship heavy, that loops around the board making almost any ticket connection possible. It’s a little strange to get in that mindset – you’ll draw tickets with cities on opposite corners of the board, wonder why the point value is only 13, and then realize it’s only 3 connections away.

To Hawaii we go!

The World also brings along a much longer game – instead of 45 train tokens to get rid of, you have a 60-piece mix of ships and trains. Those extra fifteen tokens add time to the game by default, so be prepared to spend around 2 hours with a full player count. Some may think that’s just too long for TTR; as long as I’m not in a hurry to be someplace, the length doesn’t bother me. There’s plenty to do along the way, and you still have the tension of getting your last ticket or last big connection or last harbor on the board. It’s such a relief to get 2 extra turns once the game end is triggered instead of 1 – you can draw that one last card you need for one final connection, or save 2 glorious plays ’til the very end while you work towards something else you’re unsure you have the time for.

The Great Lakes map features more trains than ships and plays closer to the standard length of a TTR game (50 tokens). There’s no board-looping or rough terrain to worry about, either, so it might appeal more to your casual gaming friends who already like Ticket to Ride. Your mileage may vary.

A Bear route?

Personally, being from the Midwest myself I love the Great Lakes map. I have more of a personal connection to the locations on the map in real life than I do with, say, Europe or Switzerland. Not that I don’t enjoy imagining plopping around foreign countries, but there is something special about having real memories associated with the dots on the map. That’s very personal to me, though, and not everyone will get extra joy out of heading to Muskegon where I’ve camped every summer with my family for 25 years or so.

Is Rails and Sails for everyone? Probably not. The massive amounts of points that can be scored outside of pure-n-simple tickets will throw off people’s strategies, and may give more casual players too much to worry about. But it does add depth and variety to the game, albeit some length of play as well. It’s not totally re-writing the playbook, either.

At the very least, the board is beautiful.

There’s a whole world out there

If you love Ticket to Ride in all its forms, it’s definitely a worthy expansion. It adds completely new strategies and forces a shift in how you think about playing, which sets it apart from the other games in the series.

iSlaytheDragon would like to thank Asmodee North America and Days of Wonder for providing a review copy of Ticket to Ride: Rails & Sails.

  • Rating 8.0
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Summary

Pros

Colorful news maps!
Harbors add new strategies and ways of looking at the map
Ships add some interesting challenges

Cons

Longer games, especially the world map
Adds some complexity that more casual fans might not enjoy

8.0 Very Good

Futurewolfie loves epic games, space, and epic games set in space. You'll find him rolling fistfuls of dice, reveling in thematic goodness, and giving Farmerlenny a hard time for liking boring stuff.

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