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

Monday, 21 December 2015

Harrisburg or London? London.

Since 2007, the 2004 Spiel des Jahres award-winning board game Ticket to Ride from Days of Wonder, has been supported with new maps, begining with Ticket to Ride: Switzerland. That new map would be collected in the Ticket to Ride Map Collection: Volume 2 – India & Switzerland, the second entry in the Map Collection series begun in Ticket to Ride Map Collection: Volume 1 – Team Asia & Legendary Asia. Both of these have proved to be worthy additions to the Ticket to Ride line, whereas the more recent Ticket to Ride Map Collection vol. 3: The Heart of Africa and Ticket to Ride Map Collection: Volume 4 – Nederland have proved to add more challenging game play, but at a cost in terms of engaging game play. Further given that they included just the one map in the third and fourth volumes rather than the two in each of the first two, neither felt as if they provided as much value either. Fortunately this is not an issue with the latest release in the line, Ticket to Ride Map Collection Vol. 5: United Kingdom + Pennsylvania, which as its title suggests includes two maps. Which just leaves the question of how well both maps play…

To begin with, Ticket to Ride Map Collection Vol. 5: United Kingdom + Pennsylvania includes the one map that I have wanted since the game’s publication in 2004—a map of the United Kingdom. After all, the United Kingdom was the birthplace of the railways, so a specific map the British Isles always seemed like a good idea. The second map is Pennsylvania, thus providing the first ‘small’ location for Ticket to Ride, that is a US state rather than a country or continent as with other maps for the game. Yet these are not just extra maps, for both come with new rules that echo those of more complex railway games such as 1829 and Railways of the World. The Pennsylvania map adds Stock Shares that will grant you extra points, whilst the United Kingdom map includes technologies and improvements that a player will need to purchase if he wants to progress beyond England. 

As with previous entries in the Map Collection series, Ticket to Ride Map Collection Vol. 5: United Kingdom + Pennsylvania requires the trains and scoring markers from one of the base sets, either Ticket to Ride or Ticket to Ride Europe. It will also need a full set of Train cards from one of the base games, though only for the Pennsylvania map, though it can get away without them. Inside the box, in addition to the double-sided map, can be found the rulebooks and the Tickets for each map. For the Pennsylvania map there is also a set of Stock Share cards, whilst for the United Kingdom map, there is a set of Technology cards and and a new set of Train cards. It feels quite a lot for an entry in the Ticket to Ride Map Collection series and it is pleasing to note that everything fits neatly in the box—an issue in some entries in the Map Collection series.

The Pennsylvania map not only depicts the state of Pennsylvania, it also covers much of the state of New York and also Canada in the form of Ontario. It is a two to five player map that plays much like standard Ticket to Ride, but with three notable additions. The first is that it includes ferry routes, first seen in Ticket to Ride: Europe. There are two ferry routes, both of which connect Pennsylvania to Ontario, but which are not connected to each other. The second is a new Ticket type, one that connects a city to a country, or in this case, another city to Ontario. Tickets that connect a city to a country or a country to a country are not new to Ticket to Ride, having first appeared in Ticket to Ride: Switzerland, but here you have Tickets that in effect connect to a location—that is, Ontario—twice. Of course, technically they do not connect twice because Ontario is in effect two locations, but with Tickets such as ‘Ontario – Syracuse’ and ‘Ontario – Pittsburgh’, it feels as if they do.

The third addition is in the form Stock Share cards. There are sixty of these, for companies such as the ‘Baltimore & Ohio Railroad’, the ‘Pennsylvania Railroad’, and the ‘New York Central System’. These vary in number according to the railroad company, so for example, the ‘Pennsylvania Railroad’ has fifteen, whereas the ‘New York Central System’ has five. Each set of Stock Share cards is numbered sequentially, from one through to the maximum number. Prominent on the Stock Share cards are the company logos and these also appear alongside many of the routes on the map. When a player claims a route that has one of the logos next to it, he can claim a corresponding Stock Share card. At the end of the game, in addition to checking and scoring for complete and incomplete Ticket cards, each player counts up the number of Stock Share cards he has. The player with the most Stock Shares in each Railroad receives the most points (as shown on that Railroad’s cards) followed by the player with the second most Shares, and so on. The outcome of ties are determined by whomever has the lowest number Stock Share card, this indicating that a player invested in that company first.

At their most basic, the Stock Share rules add an alternative means of scoring to Ticket to Ride, but what they also do is add an investment element. Share Stocks are worth investing in because they are can score a player a lot of points, as much as twenty or thirty points in some cases. This gives a player another choice to make—how much effort should he put into investing in Stock Shares, even if sometimes, that means claiming a route simply for the Share Stock alone.

Where the Pennsylvania map provides a few changes, the United Kingdom provides a lot, starting with the fact that it is two to four players rather than the standard two to five. The second big change in the United Kingdom map is that it is in portrait format rather than the usual landscape format. It depicts the British Isles—England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland—and the tip of northern France. In fact, it depicts the tip of Northern France twice so that the country can be connected via two different destinations. This also means that the map includes the new city to country Tickets types and what are in effect, the new country to country Tickets, much as the Pennsylvania map does. The individual countries are different colours for several reasons—ease of identification, the limitations of technology, and so on. The third change is that like the Pennsylvania map, the United Kingdom map includes ferry routes, but because the British Isles are islands, they include more of them. Notably, there is one ferry route that is an incredible ten Trains long! This runs from Southampton off the board in the direction of New York and the USA—and is worth a total of forty points!

In addition to the map, the United Kingdom comes with its own set of Train cards that include more Locomotive or ‘wild’ cards than the standard deck. This is because of the way in which the fourth and biggest change works—Technology. What Technology does in the game is give the players permission to claim certain types of routes or grant them extra points as it maps out the historical and technological progress of the railways in the United Kingdom. Initially, the players can claim routes in England, just one or two trains long. To claim routes three trains long, a player needs to purchase a ‘Mechanical Stoker’; to claim routes four or more trains long, a player needs to purchase a ‘Superheated Steam Boiler’; and to claim ferry routes, a player much purchase ‘Propellers’, though this Technology is not necessary should a player want to claim the long route between Southampton and New York. There are also concessions to Wales, Scotland, and Ireland/France which are needed to claim routes within those countries and to claim routes between them and England. Other Technologies grant extra points, for example, ‘Boiler Lagging’ gives a player an extra point for each route claimed, whilst ‘Double Heading’ gives a player two extra points for each Ticket claimed. There is also the ‘Right of Way’ Technology, which enables a player to build alongside an already claimed route, but this must be purchased, used, and returned to table on the same turn to be available on the next turn.

Each Technology needs to be purchased, the cost being paid for with Locomotive cards. The price ranges from one to four Locomotive cards, a player being able to purchase a Technology before he takes his turn. This is in addition to the standard use of Locomotive cards, including the claiming of Ferry routes, emphasising the importance of the Locomotive cards more than any other map. To offset this importance, each player begins the game with a Locomotive card in addition to the standard selection of Train cards. Also there are five extra Locomotive cards in the Train card deck that comes with this map Collection set (these can be removed and the deck used with the Pennsylvania map) and when three Locomotive cards are on display, they remain there rather than going into the discard deck and new cards being drawn. Also, if a player lacks Locomotive cards, he can substitute four ordinary Train cards instead.

A player’s choice of Technology will be dictated by his Tickets, for example, a player with the ‘Cardiff – Reading’ needs the ‘Wales Concession’ Technology, whereas if he had the ‘Londonderry – Birmingham’ Ticket he would require the ‘Ireland/France Concession’ to claim routes in Ireland and the ‘Propellers’ Technology to cross the Irish Sea. The ‘Mechanical Stoker’ Technology will probably also be useful as it allows a player to claim three Train routes.

Lastly, in addition to the standard eleven Technology cards, the United Kingdom also includes five Advanced Technology cards. Their inclusion is optional and there is not enough of each for every player in a full game, but they make for a much more competitive game. Two are bets, for example, the ‘Equalising Beam’ gives a player fifteen points if he has the longest route, but penalises him fifteen points if he does not. Of the five one is arguably too powerful. This is ‘Water Tenders’, which lets a player draw three cards blind rather than the two as standard. This is a big advantage and perhaps the group want to think about including it. I would suggest making it more powerful, for example drawing four cards instead of three from the top of the Train deck, but have it as a one use card that must be returned to the table so that it is available to the other players.

Physically, Ticket to Ride Map Collection Vol. 5: United Kingdom + Pennsylvania is all but up to the usual standards of the Ticket to Ride line. The Pennsylvania map is perhaps a little bland and it it lacks the scoring list typically placed on Ticket to Ride maps. The United Kingdom does include the scoring map and is a more colourful affair. A nice touch is that the towns and cities of each country is marked by the flag for that country, so the ‘Y Ddraig Goch’ of Wales, ‘The Saltire’ of Scotland, and so on.

Where Ticket to Ride has the feel of the late Victorian age—the ‘Gay Nineties’ or ‘Naughty Nineties’—Ticket to Ride Map Collection Vol. 5: United Kingdom + Pennsylvania has the feel of an earlier age, the early to mid Victorian age. While the Pennsylvania map adds a pleasing addition to the scoring methods in Ticket to Ride, the United Kingdom map gives the game a sense of narrative progression as advances are made in technology. In terms of game play, the Tickets a player has will determine what Technology he has to purchase, rather than Technology determining game play. Whilst Technology makes the game play more complex, it is a more straightforward complexity when compared to the conceptual complexity of the Mandalas of the India map of Ticket to Ride Map Collection: Volume 2 – India & Switzerland. It also makes the game feel much like a more traditional train-themed game, but again without the arch-complexity of those games. Ticket to Ride Map Collection Vol. 5: United Kingdom + Pennsylvania is a great addition to the Ticket to Ride Map Collection series and the Ticket to Ride family because finally—finally—Ticket to Ride not only gets a British map, it also gets to feel and play just a little like a train game.