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TICKET TO RIDE EUROPE

Reviewed by Herb Levy

(Days of Wonder; 2-5 players, ages 8 and up, 30-60 minutes; $39.95)

 

It’s happened a million times. There’s a hit, be it a TV show or a film, and the urge to continue that success proves overwhelming. So there are sequels. Rarely are the sequels as good as the original. A notable exception that comes to mind is The Godfather. That brilliant film spawned an even more brilliant sequel in The Godfather 2. (But then, along came The Godfather 3 to show that TG2 was the exception that proves the rule.) Sequels are tricky stuff and games are not immune to the blandishments of continued success. Which brings us to Ticket to Ride Europe, a “sequel” of sorts to its award winning predecessor, Ticket to Ride. Is this a (rail) road worth traveling? The short answer is: yes.ticketrideeurope

Ticket to Ride Europe gives Alan Moon, the designer of Ticket to Ride, a chance to use his flair for improving a game design (even one of his own!) to excellent use. Ticket to Ride Europe uses the same basic mechanics of its predecessor: you draw train cards (found in 8 colors with locomotive/wild cards) to create sets, matching card colors to track colors so you can place your own color-coded rail cars on the board. Laying track earns you Victory Points charted on the scoring track on the board perimeter. Destination cards award VP bonuses if you manage to construct a complete line linking the cities on the cards. (For a full report on how that train/game system operates, check out our Flashback in this issue.) But the clever additions to this game give it a flavor of its own.

Several changes transform the flow of the game play. As before, the game includes Destination cards but they now come in two varieties: regular, which will reward you with 5 to 13 VPs if you’re successful, and “Long”, worth 20 or 21 VPs if completed. All players start with one Long and three regular and may discard any but must keep at least two of them to begin. The guarantee of having a potentially huge VP card in your hand is a sizeable and significant change from the original game and tends to balance out the luck factor of one player drawing huge bonus cards while another may only have small valued cards. And they made the cards, both Destination and train cards, larger making shuffling decks that much easier. Another change is the map. Obviously, the scene ofthe action has changed from America to Europe but there are more subtle changes at work here. Virtually all of the available routes are shorter than before, requiring only three or four card sets to successfully lay track. There is only 1 eight card track and only 2 six card stretches. Points are scored for placing track but the point totals jump from 7 (for a 4 card stretch) to 15 for a 6 card track and a powerful 21 points if you manage to complete the 8 card stretch. But the key changes to the game lie with the introduction of ferries, tunnels and stations.

Ferries link cities across bodies of water. They look like regular track except that the track spaces show at least one locomotive icon. To successfully construct a ferry, a player must lay down one locomotive card for EACH locomotive icon PLUS an additional set of cards equal to the remaining track spaces.

To build a tunnel, you must play a set of cards equal to the number of track spaces just like laying regular track. But there’s a twist. After playing your set, the top three cards from the draw deck are revealed. For each revealed card matching your set color, the building player must play an additional card of that same color. (If a locomotive card appears, its wild card properties work against you because wild cards match everything!) Succeed and you’ll score points normally. Fail and your cards go back into your hand and your turn is over!

Finally, there are train stations. Players begin with only three of these. On a turn, instead of playing or drawing cards, a player may place a station in any city where no station has yet been built. The first station costs 1 card of any color. The second station costs a pair of like colored cards. The third station requires a three card set. A station allows a player to do something impossible in the original game: he may use another player’s routes to help connect cities on his Destination cards.

As in the original, when one player has 2 or less locomotives left at his disposal, the game enters its last round. Everyone, including that player, gets one last turn. Then, scores are determined.

To the current score of every player, the value of completed Destination Cards are added. (Fail to complete a Destination and the value of the card is DEDUCTED from your score.) Stations that have not been placed are worth 4 VPs each. Finally, building the longest, continuous, route (and stations cannot contribute to the length) earns you an additional 10 VPs. The player with the highest cumulative total wins!

There is so much to like here. While the shorter routes are easier to complete, the VP payoffs are relatively small. This makes the Destination cards a more attractive path to VPs than in the original game which, in turn, makes building the more challenging ferries and tunnels an option you cannot ignore. The three new additions (ferries, tunnels and stations) add a new dynamic to game play and the ferries and tunnels, in particular, give new roles to the locomotives/wild cards. Before, wild cards were, of course, valuable but now they are imperative. Ferries cannot be built without them and, with the uncertainty of tunnels, it is smart to hold one (or two) in reserve to counter cards that may turn up and stymie your tunnel construction. Stations also present new decisions. They can be invaluable in linking routes, completing Destination card itineraries and, as a result, harvesting big chunks of Victory Points. But they cost you in cards (as their cost escalates) and in Victory Points themselves! Scoring an 8 point Destination card at game’s end is sweet. But when you’ve used a station to make it happen (at the cost of 4 VPs), you have effectively cut the value of the card in half! Play all three stations and you’re gambling 12 VPs (not to mention 6 train cards that could have been used differently) that you’ve made the right choice. With all players’ Destination cards only revealed at the end of the game, the wisdom of your decisions remains unclear until the very end.

Ticket to Ride is a game worthy of the accolades it has received. It has proven to be a wonderful choice to introduce the world of European style gaming to novices as well as a pleasure to play for more experienced gamers. With a few additions and modifications, Ticket to Ride Europe adds a new layer of decision-making to the basic formula, making this sequel fresh, new and even more attractive to the gamers in the crowd. Even owners of the original Ticket to Ride will find the original touches in Ticket to Ride Europe just the thing to make this train ride first class. Recommended. – – – – – – – – – Herb Levy


 

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