Ah, my month of Ticket to Ride goodness continues. Last time I reviewed Ticket to Ride: Germany. Today I’m staying in Europe to check out the new France map, and then heading over to the USA to play the new Old West map. Both promise significant changes to the basic Ticket to Ride formula, supposedly creating a more “gamery” TTR experience. So the question is: Are change and complexity good or bad? Let’s find out.
How They Play
Both of these new maps build on the rules of Ticket to Ride. The basic gameplay remains the same, so I’ll only explain the changes. If you need a refresher on basic Ticket to Ride, check out our review of the base game.
This is a “Map Pack,” so you’ll need another full version of Ticket to Ride to Play. That could be the original TTR (USA) or TTR Europe. From those “full” games you’ll need to scavenge the trains, score markers, and train car cards. Everything else you need comes in this box.
First, let’s talk about the changes in the Old West.
At the beginning of the game, each player is dealt five destination tickets and must keep at least three. Players are also given three city markers. Each player chooses their starting city and places one city marker on it.
On your turn, you can do one of these three actions:
1. Draw train cards. Follows the rules of the base game exactly.
2. Claim a route. The first route you claim must extend from your starting city. Every subsequent route you claim must connect to either your home city or another city to which you have already connected. You may never claim a route that is not connected to your network.
After you claim a route, you may place one of your city markers in either connected city by playing a pair of cards of the same color, or using locomotive cards as wild cards. Cities can only have one marker, so you cannot place a city marker in one already occupied by another player. City markers cannot be moved once placed.
Claimed routes give points to the player who claimed them UNLESS one or more of the cities connected is/are controlled by another player. In that case, the points go to the player who controls the city. If two different players control cities on the route, both players score the points. If the same player controls both cities on the route, that player scores the points twice.
There are also ferry routes in this version which require you to play a specified number of locomotive cards plus the usual number of colored cards in order to claim them.
3. Draw destination tickets. You draw four destination tickets from the deck and you must keep at least one of them.
There is also a variant in the Old West that involves Alvin the Alien from the Alvin and Dexter expansion. (You don’t have to own the expansion to play this variant, but if you do you can use the Alvin figurine to replace the cardboard token they give you in the box.)
In the variant, Alvin starts in Roswell (where else?) and no one can place a city marker in Roswell during the game. The first player to place a route into Roswell captures Alvin (and 10 points) and must then move him to any city he controls. When another player claims a route into the new Alvin-controlled city, he gets 10 points and must move him to a city he controls. The person who controls Alvin at the end of the game gets 10 bonus points.
At the end of the game, the player who completed the most destination tickets gets a fifteen point bonus. All other scoring remains the same as in the base game, except for the scoring of occupied cities described above.
Now let’s talk about the changes in France.
The first thing you’ll notice is that most of the routes on the map are not colored, or even gray. They’re simply track beds waiting for you to build them. Interesting…
On your turn, you can perform one of these actions.
1. Draw train cards AND build a route. You’ll draw cards just as in the base game, but if you draw cards, you must also build a route on an open track bed. Choose any available track piece and place it on any track bed of the same length on the board. This piece now determines the color of the route.
If the newly built route crosses over another route, the route beneath it is now unavailable. Also, in two or three player games, you can only build one of the double or triple routes. Once someone has built one, the others are unavailable.
2. Claim a route. This works like the base game, except you can only claim a route which has been previously built and you must adhere to whatever color the builder chose. Once you claim a route, return the track piece to the supply.
There are a few gray routes which can be claimed with any color, and there are also ferries which adhere to the rules described above in the Old West section.
3. Draw destination tickets. You can draw four destination tickets from the deck and you must keep at least one.
At the end of the game, the player who has the longest continuous route gets a ten point bonus. The player who has the most destination tickets receives a fifteen point bonus. All other scoring remains the same as the base game.
Is This the Ticket to Gamer’s Paradise, or Just Another Stop on the Line?
So what did I think? Let me unpack my thoughts on each individual map, first, and then I’ll let you know my overall impression.
First, the Old West.
Of the two maps, I preferred this one the most and here’s why: This one added just enough to change up TTR without adding on too much time or making it something that I won’t be able to get to the table with a fairly wide audience.
The cities provide an extra layer of thought. You only have three and one is placed at the beginning of the game, leaving you with just two. As you’re building your routes, you have to figure out the best places for those cities. Where can you put them so that an opponent will likely need to pass through them to get where they’re going? Conversely, as you’re building your routes you want to try to stay away from your opponent’s cities if you can, although there are times when taking the point hit can be worth it to broaden your own network.
There are also times when you have no choice but to go through someone else’s city because you’re playing with only 40 trains instead of the normal 45. This means you can’t take too many detours without costing yourself the opportunity to finish those destination tickets. You have to choose between taking the point hit on claiming the route, or possibly leaving tickets incomplete and having to eat those points.
In a game with four or more players, the board gets so crowded with cities that you generally have no choice but to connect to someone else’s city, giving them the points. (Of course, that works both ways, too.) It’s also difficult to play without being mean, even if you don’t intend to be.
In basic TTR, the “meanness” is often inadvertent. You end up claiming a route that someone else was eyeing because you needed it, same as them. But in the Old West, the meanness can become more in your face. I can plonk down a city which will end up costing you points next turn, or force you to try to find another route. With lots of players and a crowded map, you may not intend to play mean, but those cities have to go somewhere and there are only so many choices. You’re bound to make someone unhappy. (Again, though, it goes both ways so it does tend to even out.) All this to say that if confrontation bugs you, this is probably not the game for you.
Still, while the cities add some extra thought, they don’t elevate the game to a place where non/casual gamers can’t get it. If they’ve played basic TTR, the cities are an easy enough addition to grasp. Whether they’ll want to play with that little bit more complexity is a different story.
Finally, the Alvin variant adds a nice extra way to play. I appreciate that Days of Wonder threw in a little alien marker to use if you don’t have the Alvin & Dexter expansion. The variant is just a different way to rack up some points, giving you one more consideration beyond the cities. It’s not much more complex than the regular Old West map, but chasing Alvin around can help you gain back some points if your routes aren’t paying off.
It’s also nice that this map can accommodate up to six players. If you’ve got a bigger group, this is a good option.
And what about France?
The board is one of the prettiest TTR maps I’ve seen, and the destination tickets are lovely, as well. As for the gameplay, I liked it but didn’t love it. It is a major change for the game. Now you’re not only claiming routes, you have to build them first. And this is agonizing. Say you’ve been hoarding some red cards, hoping to build a long route. On your turn, you build one of the nice long routes in red, hoping that on your next turn you can cash in those cards and claim the route.
Unfortunately your opponent, who has also been gathering red cards, thanks you for building that route and snatches it out from under you. Of course, the solution here is to pay attention to what colors your opponents seem to be gathering and try not to give them routes.That’s easier said than done, particularly at higher player counts where lots of cards are being drawn. If your memory isn’t great (yeah, that’s me), this is going to be hard. You can also bluff, laying down track in places you don’t want to go in the hope of tempting your opponent to go over there. Of course, you can also build a route in a color and hope to gather the cards later, but that may not pay off, either. If the draw doesn’t break your way, you’re in trouble.
But it gets worse. Most maps have the rule that in 2 or 3 player games only one of the double or triple routes can be claimed. That rule is present here, too, and it’s not a problem. It’s just a way to try to prevent your opponents from getting somewhere too easily. Fine. But France gives you another way to stop your opponents from getting somewhere. When you build a route so that it crosses over another route, the route underneath becomes unavailable. (I assume we’re living in a world where bridges and tunnels haven’t been invented. But anyway…) So not only can I put down a route in a color I know you don’t have, I can place it so that it removes another route from the game entirely. Ouch.
As in the Old West, you can play this game to be intentionally confrontational, but even if you try to be nice, you’re going to end up upsetting someone. There’s just no way to avoid it. Whether it’s building a route in the “wrong” color, knocking another route out of the game, stealing a route out from under the person who built it, or simply inadvertently claiming the route someone else wanted, this game is in your face.
Adding to the pressure is the fact that you only have 40 trains to work with, instead of the usual 45. This means that any detour you have to take is going to cost you big time. You have to employ careful planning, but you also know that your best plan is likely to go down the drain. It’s a very agonizing, cutthroat game. (The reduced trains are the same in the Old West, but I didn’t feel that it was as punishing there. A little bit, but not nearly as bad as in France.)
You’ll want to choose your audience carefully here. The complexity makes France into a game that you won’t want to drop on new/casual gamers. You’ll also want to keep it in the closet if your group doesn’t like meanness, extreme tension, or a game where the best laid plan will go down the toilet. It’s also longer than most versions of TTR because it’s almost like playing the game twice. Having to build the routes first and then claim them adds time. France is definitely for those who want a deeper, more interactive experience. It’s not a map I’d want to play with all the time, or with all people.
Both maps are table hogs, owing simply to the size of the board and the card/train piles you have to lay out. But France adds to the space required because you need somewhere to pile up the track pieces. If you’ve got a small table, you’re going to be looking for an annex.
So is this a buy or pass?
Overall, this is a worthwhile addition to the serious TTR lover’s collection. Both maps offer new ways to play (not to mention new locations) not found in other versions of Ticket to Ride. There is an increase in complexity and thought required, especially on the France map, that takes the game into heavier territory. There is also a higher level of meanness and frustration because both maps offer more ways to mess up your opponents beyond simply taking a route they wanted. (And such screwage can happen even if you’re trying to prevent it, especially at higher player counts on crowded boards.) Gamers and TTR aficionados are likely to enjoy it.
However, if you primarily drag out TTR only when the relatives visit or with the kids, then this is likely not for you. While non-gamers could certainly figure out the rules (nothing here approaches Through the Ages levels of complexity, after all), I doubt that the level of confrontation and extra thought on either map would appeal to gamers who prefer casual fare. The complexity isn’t brain frying, but both maps do require you to think on two levels, not just build a route and be done. People who are not up for that should probably pass.
Plus, the games are longer than basic TTR (particularly France which, more or less, requires you to play the game twice).
The last thing I will say is that, for a Map Pack, this feels kind of pricey. Most of the prior map packs are available at the major OLGS’s for $22 – $25. (The UK map is the outlier at +/- $33.00) This one, though, clocks in at +/- $39.00. For reference, you can buy the full games of TTR including Europe, USA, Nordic Countries, or Germany for +/- $43.00, or just four dollars more(ish) than than this Map Pack.
Whether or not this is worth it to you will depend upon your devotion to the franchise and how interested you are in adding complexity and time to Ticket to Ride. (And whether or not you have a group that can get mileage out of this, given the limitations stated above.) If you’re not that jazzed by the additions or you’re not a super-fan, wait for a sale or use the money to pick up an entirely new game. Thirty-nine dollars gives you some nice games to choose from if you really want to change up your gaming experience.
All in all, I like what this expansion does for Ticket to Ride, but I’m a big fan of the franchise. Still, it won’t be the map I reach for every time because I don’t always want to think that hard. And I don’t always play with people who will enjoy this. There’s still a lot to be said for the versatility and simple fun of the easy-breezy versions of the game. I’d file this under, “Nice to have, but not necessary.”
iSlaytheDragon.com thanks Days of Wonder/Asmodee for giving us a copy of Ticket to Ride France/Old West for review.