Thursday, July 8, 2010

Some Thoughts on Ticket to Ride: Europe

Having played Ticket to Ride until the board was literally torn apart we decided to segue into Ticket to Ride: Europe and try our railroad baron skills on the continent. The Europe version is not that different from the US version. Obviously the boards are different, with the European one being slightly more confusing and seemingly possessing an abundance of small routes (the avoidance of which may be a key to victory). The European version also has cards that are meant to be held by actual human adults, unlike the original version which was presumably played by pixies and hobbits. It is shocking what a difference the size of the cards makes, it is a huge improvement. The major differences in the two games are the European inclusion of tunnels, ferries and stations. Tunnels and ferries make it a bit harder to grab a certain route, while stations finally provide a solution for when one of the jerks that you play with gets a route that you really wanted. And there is an eight train route!

Tunnels are routes that are marked with a black outline, almost like brackets going around the train cars. Typically they are routes that run through mountain regions, though this is not always the case. When a tunnel route is claimed the top three train cars from the draw pile are flipped over and for each one that matches a train used to claim the route, the player must pay an additional train of that color to make it through the tunnel. Since any flipped locomotives are an automatic match it usually winds up costing an additional train card for the route, though sometimes you get lucky and don’t have to pay anything additional. The other night I got hit hard when all three matched and I didn’t have enough to cover the newly inflated cost. If that happens all the cards go back to your hand and your turn ends. In a game that is so dependent on the economy of actions it is devastating to lose a turn. It also stinks to have to pay four trains to claim a route that is only worth three trains. Personally I try to avoid the tunnels for those reasons, but there are plenty of them on the board and almost impossible to get around without needing to use some of them. Looking around the board many of the tunnel routes are in prime strategic locations, so essentially you are paying for nice real estate.



England has to be connected to the rest of Europe in this game and since there are no trains that run on water it’s time to board a ferry to get there. It’s not just England though, numerous ferries dot the landscape of Europe and, like the tunnels, require a higher price for their services. Rather than requiring trains of a certain color to claim the route, ferries require a certain amount of locomotives (wild cards) in addition to matched colored trains. This certainly puts a new spin on the wild card, which was always great to have but never a necessity. I always hated having to pick a wild from the board since you only get one card instead of two, but with ferries they become much more valuable. My least favorite route is now London to Amsterdam, a measly two train route that requires two wild cards to claim it. Really? I spend two wild cards and all I come away with is two points. Though, like with the tunnels, it’s interesting to see how real world geography is impacting the game. Think of how different the original version would be if Denver (which is about the most popular city in TTR) only had tunnels running out of it. If nothing else it certainly changes things, which is what a board game sequel should do.

Of all the additions in this game the only one that I really don’t like are the stations. Each player begins the game with three stations and they can be placed on any city in the game for a cost in train cards (one for the first, two matching for the second, etc..). Having a station in a city allows that player to use any one route of another player’s coming out of that city for completing a destination ticket. It does not count towards getting the longest train, but it helps a player get a route that they may not otherwise get. To me Ticket to Ride has always been sort of a cutthroat type of game. If you sit on your cards for too long you get screwed out of the routes that you really need. Balancing when to build routes, hoarding cards, and exposing your routes and intentions have always been essential to playing a winning game. The stations provide a way around that. Maybe I’m just mean but I sort of like it the other way better. Unused stations are worth four points each at the end of the game so there is an incentive to not use them up. I do also think that the European map is much more cluttered than the US one, so it is more likely to result in people getting screwed out of a route. Edinburgh and the southern part of Spain are both very limited areas and being denied there can really mess your game up, so I could see why players would use stations. I just don’t like them.

The other interesting aspect of the game is an eight train route, exciting because the original version did not have anything larger than six. The route runs from Petrograd to Stockholm and if eight trains seems too easy it is also a tunnel. Meaning that it could conceivably cost as much as eleven trains. Ouch. It is worth 21 points so on a per train basis it is worth about the same as the six train route. Is it worth it? I think the best thing about it is being able to get eight trains out of your hand at once, that can really end the game in a hurry. Being able to catch your opponents off guard with incomplete routes is a great way to win the game and this helps with that. A lot. Say it is nearing the end of the game and you have 15 trains left to put down. You get that Stockholm to Petrograd tunnel up and running and suddenly the game can be over in two more turns with the right cards. Much sooner than people were expecting I would wager. Strategically it is not the greatest route, mainly because going through Sweden and Denmark is sort of difficult, it is normally prized real estate. If you only need to get to Stockholm it can work out pretty well for you. Eastern Europe has the best routes in the game so Petrograd links up with all sorts of good stuff.

Ticket to Ride:Europe is certainly a worthy sequel to the original. I would still recommend the original to someone who had never played either, but only because it is slightly simpler to learn. Not that either of them are difficult. Plus, it’s nice to brush up on my turn of the century European geography. I also feel that the two have different strategies, what works in one game may not work in the other. I am still learning the nuances of the European board and the destination tickets, which are very different. The original game has an even mix of points on destination tickets, ranging from small to very large. The Euro game has primarily smaller valued tickets with only six routes being worth 20 or more points. Scoring from trains on the board becomes more valuable in the Euro game because of this, which is why those short routes will really slow you down. But, like I said, it’s an excellent game.

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