Ticket to Ride remains one of my all time favorite games. Despite the fact that I should have “progressed” beyond it by now (or outgrown it, some would say), its simplicity, suitability for all audiences, and fun factor still keep it at the top of my list. I don’t think I’ve ever actively disliked any of the TTR games, map packs, or expansions. Heck, I’ll even stand by the basic USA map as a decent choice for two players because, hey, it’s Ticket to Ride! (Most people dislike that map with two because it’s so big you can easily avoid each other. Me, I still enjoy it.) So when the Germany version was announced as finally coming to American shores, I knew I had to try it. So is the TTR love streak still on, or have I finally hit the wall?
All Aboard or Throw the Passengers From the Train?
The first thing to note is that Germany isn’t a map pack expansion. (Although perhaps it should have been. More on that down below.) It’s a full fledged game in its own right, meaning you don’t have to own any of the other versions of Ticket to Ride to play.
The basic rules are almost exactly the same as basic Ticket to Ride, though. You’re collecting sets of cards, trading them in for trains to claim routes, and scoring points based on how long those completed routes are. The only two notable exceptions are the passengers and the inclusion of two decks of destination tickets, divided into long and short routes.
The passengers are a simple addition, rules-wise. Each city on the map has a certain number of colored passenger meeples randomly placed into it at the beginning of the game. When you complete a route into a city, you can choose one meeple from each end of your just-connected route. If there are no meeples in a city, you get nothing, if there’s only one, that’s the one you take. If there’s more than one, choose your meeple. You keep your meeples in front of you so that your passenger stash is visible to everyone.
At the end of the game, the player with the most meeples in a given color receives a twenty point bonus. The player with the second most of a color scores a ten point bonus. If there’s a tie for first place, both players get the twenty points and no one else receives a bonus. If there’s a tie for second place, all the tied players get the ten point bonus. Since the player with the most points at the end of the game is the winner, these bonuses can be key to winning. Or not. (Note that unlike the older TTR: Marklin edition which also had passengers, you don’t move your passengers from city to city. You’re simply collecting them. Which is weird. It’s like everybody’s on a one way ticket to nowhere. Either that or you’re some creepy stalker “collecting” people for some reason. But I digress.)
The destination ticket decks simply allow you to knowingly choose long or short routes. In other versions of TTR, all the routes are lumped into one deck. You don’t know what you’re going to get and since you must keep at least one route card of the three you draw, it’s easy to get stuck with a route you have no chance of completing. Then at the end of the game, you have to take the point loss from an uncompleted route. The dual decks solve this problem by allowing you to choose a mixture of cards so hopefully you can get some routes you can complete. (You also draw four cards in Germany, instead of three, and you can choose any mix you want from the two decks, as long as there are cards available.) You may still get stuck with something you can’t finish, but at least you can make a strategic choice to up your odds.
These two additions add a little extra oomph strategy-wise over regular TTR. The meeples have such large scoring bonuses attached to them that it’s not wise to totally ignore them. You need to get some for yourself, but also keep an eye on your opponents and see if you can’t push yourself ahead, or at least trigger a tie. You don’t want one person grabbing all those bonuses or you’re probably in for a hard slog.
But that’s where the destination tickets present a fun new wrinkle. If you find yourself getting behind in the meeple race, you can try for longer routes to up your point count that way. Similarly, if you find yourself with a big hand of cards, you may be able to snatch up a lot of small routes in a hurry and claim a lot of points. If you complete the most destination tickets total, whether short or long, you’ll get the fifteen-point bonus Globetrotter card at the end of the game so completing routes, even those with no meeples, can provide a nice boost to your score. Of course, your best score will come if you can successfully marry your meeple strategy to your route strategy and claim a lot of both.
The one thing to be aware of is that the passengers can add a bit more aggression to the game than you find in a basic game of TTR. They give you a reason to block/go after other players, beyond simply blocking their route or claiming it first. If you want the meeple(s) in a city, you’ve got to get there first so you’ll want to bump other people out of your way. The map is fairly tight as it is and the addition of the meeples makes it a bit more cutthroat than some other maps. That’s not necessarily a bad thing if your group can tolerate it. If not, stick to one of the other versions.
The beauty of Germany is that it adds this little extra complexity and decision making without fundamentally changing the game. It’s still the same game, just with a couple of added rules. Easy peasy. The new additions don’t even add appreciable time to the game.
What extra time is added comes during setup. The passengers are fiddly. You have to keep looking from the rulebook to the board to figure out how many to put in each city. It would have been easier to put that information on the board itself. There would still be time required to get them on the board, but at least it would eliminate the back and forth reading you must do now.
I find Germany to be one of the better maps for two players. It’s tight enough to force you to get in each other’s faces more than the larger maps like USA or Asia. I don’t think it’s quite as good as the Nordic countries version or the Switzerland map, which are both stellar with two, but it’s still solid. It’s also great at higher player counts and the meeples really shine the more players you have.
With two players, the passengers don’t work that well. You end up chasing meeples to try to create a tie in a color, or to make it a wash if, say, your opponent has the most in blue and you get the most in red. Plus, since the second place player gets ten points, both of you are guaranteed to get something, unlike at higher counts where someone is likely to get left out.
Of course, if one player forgets to focus on the passengers (I admit nothing), then the other player can stomp you. But if both players are keeping track, it’s not that difficult to end up with, “You got twenty for blue and ten for green, and I get ten for blue and twenty for green,” and have all the meeples end up nullifying each other. The whole thing can end up feeling kind of pointless. So the map is really good for two players, but the passenger aspect is lacking.
Are there other negatives? Well, one that should be pretty obvious is that Germany is not a game-changer. If you don’t like Ticket to Ride, this isn’t going to change that. It’s still the same game with just a couple of rules tweaks.
My other negative point is the price. This is, as I guess you should expect, priced as a full version of Ticket to Ride. Yet there’s so little added that it feels like it really could have been a map pack and been less costly. The passengers are the only thing not commonly found in other map packs, which include a board and new destination card decks. (When you buy a map pack, you must supply the trains and train cards from another full version of TTR.) Maybe the passengers were so costly to produce that it didn’t make sense, but it’s hard not think, “Geez, this could have been cheaper as a map pack.”
Still, if cost is a factor, you can buy this and keep it as your only version of Ticket to Ride. It’s got enough meat on the bone for those days when you want a little more pizzaz, but without any more time investment. However, it’s still simple enough that this could be your “gateway” version of TTR, as well. There’s nothing here that non-gamers can’t grasp so you can still drag it out for family gatherings and the like. And if you really dislike the passengers or play with people who find them too complex, there’s no reason you can’t leave them in the box and just play regular Ticket to Ride on this map.
Overall, this is a solid addition to the TTR line. I’d recommend picking it up if you’re a fan who likes to have all the maps, or if you’re in the market for your first Ticket to Ride game. There’s no reason not to start with Germany, if you like the map. If you’ve already got a lot of maps and don’t feel the need to own them all, then this may be an, “Only if it’s on sale,” purchase for you. It’s fun and the passengers/destination tickets add new strategic layers, but it’s still Ticket to Ride at its heart. None of these additions change the game so much that you think, “Wow, this is what I’ve been looking for all of my life.”
iSlaytheDragon.com thanks Asmodee for giving us a copy of Ticket to Ride Germany for review.