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Review: Ticket to Ride: Switzerland

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The Alps! Everyone loves the Alps, especially train enthusiasts. And what better Alpine vista is there than Switzerland’s? The chocolate! The cheese! The lederhosen! (Though those are more in Germany. No matter.)

Such good cheer, and so widespread–so why is it so hard to get around? And why is Zurich so mired in bad train traffic? And why are the cards you need so very, very hard to find?

Ticket to Ride: Switzerland captures none of the feelings of Alpine goodwill but all of the excitement of a dangerous mountain train journey.

(Note: Ticket to Ride: Switzerland has been rereleased as part of volume 2 of the Ticket to Ride map collection–India/Switzerland. However, I have the original release, which is the Switzerland map all by itself.)

How It Works

Ticket to Ride: Switzerland is a map expansion for Ticket to Ride designed specifically for two or three players. It requires the train cards and player tokens from a Ticket to Ride base game (either US or Europe) to play.

Switzerland follows the basic rules for Ticket to Ride (see our summary here), with a few changes:

  • Players begin the game with forty trains rather than forty-five.
  • There are tunnel routes (as in Ticket to Ride: Europe). To claim a tunnel route, a player reveals the desired color and turns over the top three cards of the train draw deck. For each card that matches, the player must play an additional card of that color.
  • Locomotive (wild) cards may be used only on tunnel routes. Drawing a face-up locomotive card counts as only one draw (instead of two).
  • Destination tickets include city-to-country and country-to-country destinations. (That is, players score points by connecting to any city in a specified country and score more points for connecting to some countries over others.)
  • When drawing tickets, a player must keep at least one; any tickets not kept are removed from the game (rather than discarded).

Swiss chocolate or Swiss cheese?

I probably fall into the minority when I say that I really enjoy Ticket to Ride as a two-player game. Granted, I think it’s more fun with more players at the table, but the two-player game has provided my wife and me many, many hours of fun, especially the Europe map. So I was already well-disposed toward Switzerland.

Switzerland is a very tight, very intense two-player map for Ticket to Ride. The reason for this is that there are a few “hub” cities–Zurich, especially, but also Bern and Geneva–that savvy players will want to snap up as soon as they are able in order to avoid taking the long way around. There are also lots of shorter routes that provide an easier way to link destinations; they are worth fewer points, but they allow players to connect more on the map.

As is usually the case with Ticket to Ride games, I was embarrassed by how little (here, Swiss) geography I knew.

Because of this tight and tense feeling, games of Switzerland are exciting–probably the most exciting that a two-player game of Ticket to Ride has ever been. My wife and I are used to the Europe map, and while we love Europe, there’s enough space on the board for players generally to get where they need to without much fretting. (The stations also help in this regard.) But Switzerland, because of its limited options, keeps players on the edge of their seat. My wife and I play friendly games without purposely trying to block the other–but there’s no way around it in Switzerland: you will step on your opponent’s toes. And it is fun.

Switzerland is also more intense because of the way locomotive cards work. No longer can players use locomotives as wilds in regular routes: they must collect natural sets, which is harder than it looks. Locomotives may still be used on tunnel routes, so while it may seem worse to take routes that could cost more, being able to use locomotives is a boon that evens out the extra cost (and in many cases can even make tunnels more attractive).

Zurich is one of the hubs you’ve got to get to at the start of the game.

Switzerland’s tension is further ramped up because tickets that aren’t taken are removed from the game. This puts pressure on individual players to draw tickets early and often, especially because there are huge points to be gained from the country tickets. As long as players build reliable routes between the different countries, they can cash in on big points again and again as they milk their train network. But in order to do this, they will likely have to draw tickets before their other destinations are connected. (Again, in our household, we generally wait to draw tickets until we’ve secured on our main beginning routes; with Switzerland, we don’t have that luxury if we want a chance at big points.)

As is evident from what I’ve already written, Switzerland changes the feel of the game quite a bit. Whereas my wife and I can (and usually will) play multiple games of Ticket to Ride: Europe back to back, Switzerland leaves us feeling spent afterward and is usually a one-off game. The game, like mountain travel, gives players the feeling that one false step could send them careening out of control and over the precipice. While this is fun in the moment, much like Escape: The Curse of the Temple, it’s not the kind of feeling that can be sustained for too long before wearing players out.

Switzerland favors some strategies over others, and the score disparity is very evident. Switzerland favors players who play one train line and maximize their connections (especially through the country tickets). As such, players who frequently draw tickets are probably in a better position to win (though not necessarily: there are several five- and six-track routes on the board, which are worth hefty points in their own right, and tickets must be completed to help a player’s score).

There are twelve “country” destination tickets, two of each country-to-country tickets and one of each city-to-country ticket.

If there’s anything to be said against Switzerland, it’s that there are some places where luck plays a key role, either in slowing or speeding the game. Because non-tunnel routes are secured via natural sets, it may be necessary, especially in the end game when excess trains are scarce, to draw train card after train card, hoping to pull what you need. Also, there are two of every country card in the deck, and if you happen to draw the same one twice, you can double up on points without doing any extra work. (This can happen in any Ticket to Ride game, but the possibility is greater, I’ve found, in Switzerland.) Being blocked out of certain key cities can be devastating in Switzerland (so much so that we’ve opted to include the stations from Ticket to Ride: Europe, though we usually prefer not to sacrifice the points required to play them.) I don’t find any of these to be deal breakers, or even negatives. Rather, I see them as things to consider when forming a strategy, similar to identifying and plotting a route to the “big cities” in that variant for Europe. I can’t play Europe, Big Cities, or Switzerland using the same strategy, and I like the map expansions for that reason. They give the game a different feel without changing the core concepts.

Ticket to Ride: Switzerland, while perhaps not the chosen map for casual play, is the ideal choice for competitive two-player games. The game is short, tense, and exhilarating. I like the new rules for the map, and even though swings in luck can be frustrating, they usually affect both players and are just factors necessary to consider when choosing a strategy. I wouldn’t say Ticket to Ride: Switzerland is a map to begin on, but not because of the rules difficulty (rather, it can be a bit nasty). Switzerland is a great way to get extra mileage out of your base Ticket to Ride game, especially if you frequently have a smaller (or, in my case, couple’s) group.

(Note: I’ve not played this map with three players, partially because it seems to open it up a bit: with two players, only one side of the double tracks can be used, but with three players, both sides are open. I’m not sure what your mileage will be with three players: we got this map primarily because it is built for two.)

Summary

  • Rating 9
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Summary

Pros

  • Intense
  • Makes two-player games exciting
  • Varies the strategies usually employed in base Ticket to Ride games
  • Offers enough different to make it worthwhile yet stays true to the core concepts that make Ticket to Ride so great

Cons:

  • Intense
  • Very competitive
  • Can be unforgiving, especially if players aren't on the same skill level
  • My Swiss ancestry gives me no advantage over my wife
9.0 Excellent

I'll try anything once, but my favorite games are generally middleweight Euros.

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