More fun with Analog games is in store for those of you looking for that. Two games are featured in today's article, which is all about TRAINS! Specifically, we'll look at Ticket to Ride by Days of Wonder & TransAmerica, published by Rio Grande.
We'll start casual and build up. My newest fascination is train games. Specifically, ones where the strategy changes with every new collection of players and ever new game. My gaming group started, almost by accident, with Ticket to Ride by Days of Wonder. Days of Wonder, to hard core gamers, is hardly an unknown publisher; but if you're a computer gamer or an RPG enthusiast, they might be new to you. So here, if you will, is one gamer's opinion on this train game. We've expanded to TransAmerica, published by Rio Grande, as well, so I'll review that one here today too.
The general idea of almost all train games is to get from point A to point B. OK, but that's not very interesting if that's all you do. What makes these kinds of games stand apart from each other is *how* the player can get their trains from A to B. Ticket to Ride has a fairly simple mechanism for doing this: Pick up train routes (cards) you must complete. If you don't complete them by the end of the game, they count against you, so you need to pick with some awareness of a) how many trains everyone has left (everyone starts with 45), b) how long the run is you need to finish and c) how much of it you've already finished while building other routes. Not to mention D) what kind of strategies the other players may be pursuing. That's where it gets interesting.
The game is simple enough to teach the younger members of your family. Our 10 year old has been teaching the neighborhood kids, including some 7 year olds with no trouble at all. But it's also sufficiently strategically based to allow for some pretty fun cut-throating, if that's your preference. Those of us who cut their teeth on Diplomacy and Civilization will see chances for all sorts of interesting strategies, if in a simpler format, and the game changes noticeably when you're playing with folks from that background. Because of the simplicity of the mechanics, you can either make this a social game or get really crazy with strategy (or both if you're my bunch of friends :>). There's a basic mod in the game (I think it's even in the rules) – you can either play "showing" completed runs or NOT showing. Some of our group prefers not showing as more strategic and others prefer the "counting coup" of showing what you've earned. It's purely a group preference as far as I can tell.
We created a mod for the game the same week we got it. Of course you're talking to a gamer who barely remembers how to play "out of the box" Catan, we play with so many versions and mods, so that's hardly surprising. Instead of drawing 3 train routes and picking as many of those to complete as I think I can (minimum of 1), we lay them out on the board – open to all players – to compete for them in an "open" manner. This becomes a great deal more competitive, but is balanced by no negative points. This version never has as many "win" points as the standard, because we all know what we're all going for. The one thing you have to be careful of is that in the standard game, drawing tickets is limited by the concern of losing points if you don't finish. Since that's not a limitation in this version, you have to watch the end game very closely or got totally slaughtered. This mod has 4 tickets put out if there are 3 or fewer players, 6 if there are 4 or more players. Each one that is completed generates a new ticket from the pile.
The basic game is built on a US map circa 1900, using the lines that were most prevalent in that era. The 1910 expansion looks interesting, but none of has that one yet. There is also a Ticket to Ride: Europe which introduces tunnels and ferries as well as a Ticket to Ride: MÃ¤rklin (German Map) which introduces Passengers and Cargo. We've played Europe, no mods, and enjoy it, but as we don't own it, we don't know it as well yet. No one in the group owns MÃ¤rklin yet, so I'll have to review that when I get my hands on it.
One of the many cool things about Days of Wonder is that when you buy their games, you get a code to play in their online world. That is any one of their games gives you entry into *all* of their online games for something like six months. Very cool addition to the product.
TransAmerica is a much simpler, much faster game. The game is designed to play 3, maybe 4 rounds before someone has "lost" and a winner is declared. With a common pool of 84 train pieces, Each player draws 5 city cards and tries to make sure her cities are touched first by the ever growing collective train system. While you can only build on your own stretch of the system, as soon as you join up with another player's section, you can both build anywhere on the newly combined and larger system, so what you connect to, what cities you avoid, and how far you need to go are all integral to the strategy of this game. Each city you don't get to costs you points, and your counter goes down the "scoring track" that many points and the first to hit the barrier over 3 or 4 rounds ends up losing. This plays *very* fast (all 3 or 4 rounds in 30 minutes or less) and is both very cooperative while at the same time being very competitive. We like this one when we're tired, as it can be played quickly and easily. We also like this one to kick off the night, as even our "non-gamer" friends get a kick out of this one. The rules are *so* simple, you really could teach your 5 year old – tho you couldn't play with the sneaky abandon we do in our group – it would be a great starting place even for the littler members of your family.
Next time – more fun with interesting cards :>.
Ticket to Ride: $40.00, 2-5 Players, Age 8+ ; length: 30-60 minutes Author Alan R. Moon
TransAmerica: $27.95; RIO201; 2-6 players, aged 8 +; length: 30 minutes; author: Franz-Benno Delonge