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

Saturday, 1 March 2014

Going Dutch

With its fourth entry in the Ticket to Ride Map Collection, Days of Wonder has gone Dutch. Like the previous Ticket to Ride Map Collection: Volume 3 - The Heart of Africa, Ticket to Ride Map Collection: Volume 4 - Nederland includes just the one map as well as a new mechanic that makes game play tighter and ultimately forces a player to pay heavily in terms of points if he is not quick enough. As with the other titles in the series, it requires a base set to play, either Ticket to Ride or Ticket to Ride: Europe.

The map in Ticket to Ride Map Collection: Volume 4 – Nederland is laid out vertically, much like the maps in Ticket to Ride Map Collection: Volume 3 - The Heart of Africa and Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries. A riot of verdant green, cut by innumerable rivers and canals, and bound by the North Sea to the West, the Netherlands’ rivers and canals are bridged by Double-Routes, there being more Double than Single routes. Each route has a value attached to it between one and four. This is its Toll value.

Ticket to Ride Map Collection: Volume 4 – Nederland also includes a set of forty-four Destination Tickets, five sets of Bridge Toll Tokens, and a set of Bonus and Loan cards. These Destination Tickets are of higher value than normal, six of them being worth between twenty-nine and thirty-four points and another seventeen being worth between seventeen and twenty-six points. The Bridge Toll Tokens are done in thick cardboard and valued either one, two, or four. 

Designed for between two and five players, the expansion mostly plays just like any Ticket to Ride map, except each player receives forty rather than forty-five trains, and five Destination Tickets of which he must keep three. He also receives Bridge Toll Tokens to a value of thirty. During his turn, a player can draw Train Cards as normal; draw more Destination Tickets – four, must keep one; or play Trains to claim a route. Claiming a route is where this expansion differs from other Ticket to Ride boards. When a player claims the first route of a Double-Route, he must pay the value next to it as a Toll in Bridge Toll Tokens to the Bank. If another player later claims this Double-Route’s second route, then that player pays the same Toll in Bridge Toll Tokens to the player who claimed the first route.
For example, the Double-Route between Den Helder and Haarlem has a Toll value of two. Richard claims the first route using four orange Trains Cards and pays the required Bridge Toll Tokens to the bank. Later in the game, Debbie finding that she needs the same route, uses four blue Train Cards to claim the second route. With Richard having already claimed the first route, Debbie must pay the Bridge Toll Tokens not to the Bank, but to Richard.
Obviously claiming the first routes of a Double-Route before anyone else is the key here. In doing so, the player who claims the first route is likely receive the value in Bridge Toll Tokens he paid to the bank from the player who claims the second route. Since this gives an advantage to players who start earlier and can claim routes faster, later players start the game with some bonus points. As game’s end, the players are awarded points based on the number of Bridge Toll Tokens they have in relation to each other. Should a player run out of Bridge Toll Tokens, he can take a Loan Card for each route claimed. Doing so means that a player cannot score any points based on the number of Bridge Toll Tokens he has at game’s end.

In addition to the new rules that make use of the expansion’s Bridge Toll Tokens, Ticket to Ride Map Collection: Volume 4 – Nederland gives rules for two other ways of playing the Dutch map. The first is as per the standard game, but without the use of the Bridge Toll Tokens, the Bonus Cards, or the Loan Cards. The second is a two-player variant that uses the Bridge Toll Tokens. It actually uses a dummy player as a third participant whose actions are determined in a semi-random fashion by the text at the bottom of some of the Destination Tickets. The effect of this randomness is to make this two-player variant a much more tense playing experience because the dummy player’s actions are not as predictable.

Physically, Ticket to Ride Map Collection: Volume 4 – Nederland is as attractive as the other maps available for Ticket to Ride. As pretty as the map is, the choice of font is too pretty, especially for casual play. Too often a player has to study the map to work out where the various towns and cities are, more so because their names are given in a slightly illegible font. This is offset by the Destination Tickets which clearly indicate where the two towns or cities that need to be connected are on the map. The various Destination Ticket and Bonus and Loan Cards are equally as attractive, though not as flawed. The game’s major flaw is the inadequate packaging – the space in the tray provided to store the Bridge Toll Tokens is utterly insufficient. It is possible to store them underneath the tray, but that was certainly not Days of Wonder’s intention.

In comparison to other Ticket to Ride maps, Ticket to Ride Map Collection: Volume 4 – Nederland might be seen as being complex and indeed, it does add another degree of resource management in the form of the Bridge Toll Tokens. That said, what Ticket to Ride Map Collection: Volume 4 – Nederland brings to the Ticket to Ride family is a means to turn on the pressure during the play. That is, claim the first route of a Double-Route as there is a chance that you will get your Bridge Toll Tokens back when another player claims the second route. Essentially this adds an economic aspect to the game in that paying Bridge Toll Tokens to the Bank when claiming the first route of a Double-Route actually serves as an investment in which the player has the potential to recoup the investment made.

As with any new Ticket to Ride map, Ticket to Ride Map Collection: Volume 4 – Nederland presents challenges anew and should be welcomed for that. Its ‘economic’ complexity relative to other entries in the Ticket to Ride family makes Ticket to Ride Map Collection: Volume 4 – Nederland suited to play by the Ticket to Ride enthusiast rather than its original family audience.