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

Friday, 7 August 2020

Contract to Cart

The very latest entry in the Ticket to Ride franchise is Ticket to Ride: Amsterdam. Like those other Ticket to Ride games, it is another card-drawing, route-claiming board game based around transport links and like those other Ticket to Ride games, it uses the same mechanics. Thus the players will draw Transportation cards and then use them to claim Routes and by claiming Routes, link the two locations marked on Destination Tickets, the aim being to gain as many points as possible by claiming Routes and completing Destination Tickets, whilst avoiding losing by failing to complete Destination Tickets. Yet rather than being another big box game like the original Ticket to Ride, Ticket to Ride: Europe, or Ticket to Ride: Nordic Countries, it takes its cue from Ticket to Ride: New York and Ticket to Ride: London. It is thus a smaller game designed for fewer players with a shorter playing time, a game based around a city rather than a country or a continent. It is also notably different in terms of theme and period.

Published by Days of Wonder and designed for play by two to four players, aged eight and up, Ticket to Ride: Amsterdam is easy to learn, can be played out of the box in five minutes, and played through in less than twenty minutes. Now where Ticket to Ride: New York had the players racing across Manhattan in the nineteen fifties attempting to connect its various tourist hotspots going via taxis rather than trains and Ticket to Ride: London has the players racing across London in the nineteen sixties, attempting to connect its various tourist hotspots going via buses rather than trains or taxes, Ticket to Ride: Amsterdam takes the Ticket to Ride franchise back to the seventeenth century and the middle of the ‘Gouden Eeuw’, the Dutch Golden Age when Amsterdam was the beating heart of global trade and the wealthiest city on Earth. Of course, it being the seventeenth century, there are no trains! So instead, the players will be fulfilling Contracts by delivering goods across the Dutch port by horse and cart—and if they take the right route, then they can claim a Merchandise Bonus too.

Inside the small box can be found a small board which depicts the centre of Amsterdam, from Nieuwe Waal in the northwest to Blauwbrug in the southeast and De Hendriken in the southwest to Oude Waal in the northeast. Notably, several of the routes are marked with Cart Symbols. When one of these routes is claimed, a player is rewarded with a Merchandise Bonus card. At the end of the game, each player will be rewarded with bonus points depending on the number of Merchandise Bonus cards he has. Besides the board map of Amsterdam, Ticket to Ride: Amsterdam comes with sixty-four plastic Buses—sixteen in each colour, as well as a scoring marker for each colour, forty-four Transportation cards—in six colours plus the multi-coloured wild cards, twenty-four Contract cards—the equivalent of Destination Tickets in other Ticket to Ride titles, sixteen Merchandise Bonus cards, and the rules leaflet. The latter is clearly written, easy to understand, and the opening pages show how to set up the game. It can be read through in mere minutes and played started all but immediately.

Play in Ticket to Ride: Amsterdam is the same as standard Ticket to Ride. Each player starts the game with some Contract cards and some Transportation cards. On his turn, a player can take one of three actions. Either draw two Transportation cards; draw two Contract cards and either keep one or two, but must keep one; or claim a route between two connected Locations. To claim a route, a player must expend a number of cards equal to its length, either matching the colour of the route or a mix of matching colour cards and the multi-coloured cards, which essentially act as wild cards. Some routes are marked in grey and so can use any set of colours or multi-coloured cards. No route is longer than four spaces and a player will score points for each route claimed.

All of which points to standard Ticket to Ride game play. Now as with Ticket to Ride: New York and Ticket to Ride: London, what marks Ticket to Ride: Amsterdam as being different from that of standard game play is most obviously its size, but once it reaches the table, what marks it out as being different is its speed of play. With fewer Cart pieces per player—sixteen as opposed to the forty-five in standard Ticket to Ride—a player has fewer resources and with fewer routes to claim, so play is quick. The shortness of the routes—no route being longer than four spaces—means that a player will spend less time drawing Transportation cards, rather than having to draw again and again in order to have the right number of Transportation cards needed for long routes—routes five, six, and seven spaces in length are common in standard Ticket to Ride. With fewer Locations, fewer Contract cards, and fewer Carts with which to claim them, a player will probably be aiming to complete no more than three or four Destination Tickets—probably fewer given how tight and competitive the board map is, especially when the players want to start competing for the all-important routes marked with Cart symbols.

The other major difference—apart from the theme—is the inclusion of the Merchandise Bonus cards. If a player is careful to claim the routes with Cart symbols, he will be awarded a bonus at the end of the game equal to one or two contracts. The difficulty comes not necessarily in claiming them, but balancing between claiming routes with Cart symbols and those without. For the most part, the routes with Cart symbols lie on the outer edge of the map and they tend to be both longer routes and not as direct as going through the city centre and the centre of the map. Whilst any of the Contract cards an be completed by whatever series of routes a player decides to build, most of them encourage a player to build routes across Amsterdam rather than around it. Of course, this will be complicated by competition for routes between the players which will likely deny one player or another a route that a player wants to use to complete a Contract card.

What the addition of the Merchandise Bonus cards is reminiscent of, is the Stock Shard cards of the Pennsylvania map from Ticket to Ride Map Collection Vol. 5: United Kingdom + Pennsylvania. In that expansion, every time a player claimed he route, he could in most cases, also claim a Stock Share card in a particular company. At the end of the game, a player would score bonus points depending upon the number of Stock Share cards he held in the various companies in the expansion. Now Ticket to Ride: Amsterdam does not have Stock Share cards, but the Contract cards do work like them in that the more a player has, the more points he will score at the end of the game.

Physically, Ticket to Ride: Amsterdam is very nicely produced. It feels a little darker in tone, but the Cart pieces are cute, the cards feel small though are still easy to read, and the rules leaflet is short, but easy to understand. Notably though, the Transportation cards are very well designed, not just clear in colour, but unlike the Train cards in Ticket to Ride, the artwork is obviously and clearly different on each colour card. For example, the pink card has a man rolling a barrel, the blue card a sailing ship, the black card a barge, and so on. This makes them a lot easier to use than the standard Ticket to Ride cards.

Like Ticket to Ride: New York and Ticket to Ride: London, what Ticket to Ride: Amsterdam offers is all of the play of Ticket to Ride in a smaller, faster playing version, that easy to learn and easy to transport. However, unlike those other titles, Ticket to Ride: Amsterdam is tighter and more competitive, a player needing to balance the need to complete Contract cards against the possibility of extra points from the Merchandise bonus cards, with the reduced playing time only exacerbating this. For younger players, Ticket to Ride: Amsterdam may be too tight, too competitive, but for veteran Ticket to Ride fans, Ticket to Ride: Amsterdam offers a tighter game and an enjoyably different theming.

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