Every Week It's Wibbley-Wobbley Timey-Wimey Pookie-Reviewery...

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Trains, Chocolate, & Curry

Hot on the heels of one expansion for Ticket to Ride, Days of Wonder brings us another. First Map Collection Vol. 1 – Ticket to Ride Asia and now Map Collection Vol. 2 – Ticket to Ride India, the second in the series that provides the Ticket to Ride fan with more pairs of maps to explore and play on. The maps themselves each come on a double-sided boards and are accompanied by new tweaks to the core rules that provide new challenges and playing experiences. Like the first Map Collection, it requires the Train Cards and Trains from either Ticket to Ride or Ticket to Ride Europe to play. Where Map Collection Vol. 1 – Ticket to Ride Asia had a theme – both of its maps present different ways in which to play the game over the continent of Asia, Map Collection Vol. 2 – Ticket to Ride India does not have a theme. Yes, one of its maps depicts India, but the other it depicts Switzerland, and that might be a bit of problem.

The problem with Map Collection Vol. 2 – Ticket to Ride India is that its Switzerland map is not new, but instead a reprint of Ticket to Ride Switzerland which appeared in 2007 before quickly going out of print and becoming just a little bit collectible. Now if you are a Ticket to Ride devotee and do not own Ticket to Ride Switzerland, then its inclusion in Map Collection Vol. 2 – Ticket to Ride India is to be welcomed. If you happen to already own a copy of Ticket to Ride Switzerland, then in buying Map Collection Vol. 2 – Ticket to Ride India, you in effect buying something that you already have in order to gain access to the board that you do not have. Or indeed, effectively doubling the price you pay for the India map.

In addition, its inclusion means that I have to review Ticket to Ride Switzerland once again. Now, having just written a review of it, I am not going to do a full review again, but rather an overview and a summary. The Switzerland map is the first two to three player variant for Ticket to Ride that makes extensive use of tunnels and adds a new type of route card that connects cities to Switzerland’s neighbouring countries or Switzerland’s neighbouring countries to each other. The map’s routes are tight with high scoring opportunities being offered through Destination Tickets that replicate parts of longer Destination Tickets. Now, the Switzerland map is not the most popular of maps with many Ticket to Ride devotees. Some consider this map to be broken.

They could not be more wrong if they tried. The aspect of the replicated Destination Tickets is a design feature. It is not a flaw. The Switzerland map is designed with a focus on Destination Tickets. It presents a challenging playing experience that plays well with either two players or three and I recommend it. In the meantime, check out my full review of Ticket to Ride Switzerland here.

So that leaves the India map for which Map Collection Vol. 2 – Ticket to Ride India is named. Where Ticket to Ride has for the most part thematically set in the 1890s, the theme being inspired by Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days, the India map moves the game on another decade or so from the end of the Victorian era onto the end of the Edwardian period. The year is 1911 and in playing the India map, the players are undertaking a Grand Tour of the subcontinent.

The India map is designed for between two and four players. The map, like the map in Ticket to Ride Nordic Countries, is vertical rather than horizontal. The area encompasses the whole of British India, including areas that are now Pakistan and Bangladesh. The island of Ceylon – now Sri Lanka – sits off the Subcontinent’s South East coast, but is not part of the map’s playing routes. The India map, unlike the maps in Map Collection Vol. 1 – Ticket to Ride Asia, does not introduce any new types of routes. Instead it keeps things very simple with its standard routes supported by a quintet of ferry routes as seen in Ticket to Ride Europe and Ticket to Ride Nordic Countries amongst others.

Indeed, the India map introduces just the single new mechanic: the Grand Tour of India bonus. This awards a player a bonus for building continuous routes between the cities on his Destination Tickets. For each Destination Ticket whose cities are connected by two or more continuous paths of the player’s Trains the player is granted a Grand Tour bonus. This bonus rises as more of player’s Destination Tickets are connected by continuous paths, up to a total of five when a player will be awarded forty points!

Essentially, players on the India map are trying to build Mandalas – “Circles” in Sanskrit – as well as completing their Destination Tickets. This takes careful planning upon the part of the players and in comparison with some Ticket to Ride maps, the India map is prone to players spending no little time mulling over their Destination Tickets before play actually starts as they try and work out what routes and Mandalas they can complete. Of course, this is further hampered by everyone trying to work where their Destination Tickets start and finish, but then Ticket to Ride has always been a fun way of introducing players to foreign and sometimes, historical geography.

In play, claiming routes and building Mandalas will be hampered by your fellow players. The author of the India map advises players to claim routes early and be careful about colour Train Cards that they draw. Good advice for any Ticket to Ride map, but on the India map, there is a plethora of short coloured routes that need to be claimed to complete Destination Tickets and if necessary, Mandalas. During play it is not only easy to find your much needed routes claimed by the other players, but also to find access to cities blocked by the other players. Both of these sometimes frustrating elements are exacerbated depending upon the number of players. They are not so vexing with two players as they do not need to be quite so competitive over the claiming of routes, nor as maddening with four players, because then the map’s double routes are open and can be claimed. Yet with three players, the map’s double routes remain closed and the competition for routes is much, much harder.

The building of Mandalas though, offers a new path to victory in Ticket to Ride. It is possible to score a lot of points at game’s end if a player has created several Mandalas. If a player attempts to score points by this means, it pays to focus on the shorter Destination Tickets as these are easier to complete than the more likely to be blocked longer Destination Tickets. Alternatively, a player can still opt to focus on completing Destination Tickets, and there a lot of them provided for the India map. At game’s end, a ten-point Indian Express bonus is awarded to the player or players who have created the Longest Continuous Path on the board.

As with Map Collection Vol. 1 – Ticket to Ride Asia, the new mechanics given in Map Collection Vol. 2 – Ticket to Ride India can be applied to other maps available for Ticket to Ride. Not those in the Switzerland map, as these require an alternate type of Destination Ticket, but the new rules for the India map could be applied to other maps. Offhand, the Mandala mechanic would probably work with the Switzerland map and the map from Ticket to Ride Nordic Countries.

Map Collection Vol. 2 – Ticket to Ride India is difficult to recommend. Not because of the quality and design of the maps themselves, but because it includes the Switzerland map. If you already have the Switzerland map, then it is an expensive purchase, even though the quality of the map and its cards has been improved for this expansion. If you want another challenging map, and do not mind purchasing a map that you already have, then the India map offers that. It is challenging because of the tight layout of the routes on the map and the lack of short double routes in addition to the difficulty of the new scoring method with the Mandalas.

If you do not own the Switzerland map, then Map Collection Vol. 2 – Ticket to Ride India is another excellent purchase. It offers two good maps, both of which work well with smaller groups of players and which offer challenging and competitive play. Neither of the two maps is suited for players unfamiliar with the game, but for Ticket to Ride veterans, Map Collection Vol. 2 – Ticket to Ride India offers new complexities and new challenges.