Although I said at the end of my last installment that I’d next be covering The Dice Expansion and The Card Game… I lied. Since Ticket to Ride: Asia is now upon us, and you’re probably more interested in that, we’ll discuss it here and save the dice/card combo for later. At $30 MSRP, Ticket to Ride: Asia includes two new maps (Team Asia and Legendary Asia) on a double-sided game board, destination tickets for both, as well as some extra trains and cardholders for the Team Asia map. Considering that the other maps have come in at $50 each (with the extra trains being superfluous if you already own one of the games), getting two new maps for $30 is quite a steal.
Keep in mind, though, that Ticket to Ride: Asia is just an expansion that requires the trains and cards for Ticket to Ride or Ticket to Ride: Europe. If you’re new to the series, I recommend checking out the links above to read my thoughts on those two games and pick one of them for starters. Alternately, the game is now available on the iPhone for a mere 99 cents, which is a cheap way to decide if it’s a game you would enjoy (unfortunately, we’re Android people here at MeepleTown). If you already own one of those base sets, read on to find out if Asia is worth adding to them.
First, I want to talk a little bit about the formatting of the maps (which are both very beautiful). I don’t normally play Ticket to Ride with my other gamer friends, although they enjoy the game also. I primarily play the game with my family. They complained about the non-U.S. maps because they were not familiar with the geography, but also because the names were impossible to recognize or pronounce – even if they’ve heard of Warsaw, they haven’t heard of “Warszawa”. I really appreciate the fact that these maps are based off of the English names for the cities, although that surely isn’t the most convenient for every single person. These names are much easier to identify and pronounce than any of the European maps, although there are a few Russian names that give us trouble. Overall it’s a great improvement for us, one that’s going to help me get these maps to the table more often. However, that’s empty praise if the maps themselves don’t measure up to their legacy. Let’s dissect each map individually and see how they stand up on their own, and then see if the combination is worth your time and money.
This map is the first of two offerings from the winners of the $10,000 map design contest. Encompassing a very large portion of southeast Asia, the map plays mostly like the Europe map, with a few new tricks. As in Ticket to Ride: Europe, players receive one of six long routes at the beginning of the game, which they are not required to keep, but they cannot gain any more long routes during the game. Also as in Ticket to Ride: Europe, the map has several ferry routes, which specifically require locomotive cards to be claimed. However, there are two new mechanics for Legendary Asia: Mountain routes and the Asian Explorer bonus.
The Mountain routes are marked with a certain number of Xs. The player claims the route as normal, and then for each X on the route, they must discard an extra train from their stockpile and put it in the graveyard space on the board. However, each train lost this way earns you two points. This new type of route changes the game quite a bit. The first thing to note is that these routes may sound treacherous but they are actually desirable. You are able to drain your train supply faster without needing a large hand of cards, meaning you can beat your opponents to the punch when it comes to the endgame. Furthermore, getting 2 points for a train car on a small route is quite good (that’s how much each train scores for you on a normal 5-length route). Lastly, the tickets whose shortest paths are through the mountains have an increased point value, since the required extra trains are counted in determining the value of the tickets.
Although thematically it seems silly for “treacherous” routes to be desirable ones, mechanically it is great. I mentioned in my discussion of Alvin & Dexter that what I found important about the idea of the expansion was the idea of making certain cities more important than others. Although the Mountain passes emphasize certain routes more than others (and, indirectly, some cities), it is exactly the right kind of mechanic to reinvigorate the gameplay. Suddenly, you have some particularly appealing short routes, and you’re no longer bound to the longest routes for the best scores. In addition, the discarded trains shorten the playing time, keeping the game from outstaying its welcome with 4-5 players. The map still has the same problem with 2 players as the others, which is that the card tableau often becomes stagnant. However, we have recently adopted playing with the dice expansion with 2 players, and this new mechanic is simple enough that it meshes well with the dice, and makes the game go even faster (20-30 minutes). The Mountains are a great addition, up there with Ferries. They create new interesting decisions with a very minimal impact on game complexity.
The other new “mechanic” is the Asian Explorer bonus. Instead of a bonus for the longest continuous path, a bonus is given to the player with the most connected cities in his largest network. This means that short routes increase in value, which is something important that I’ve emphasized in past editions of this series. Both the mountains and this bonus increase the value of short routes over long ones, which means more options, and therefore more strategy. Furthermore, this bonus really had us trying hard to invert our typical habits, which is great. We are so used to vying for the longest continuous path that it took us a few games to realize that we should be doing exactly the opposite, sprawling out in every direction as much as possible. It seems easier to tie for this bonus as it’s already happened several times, but I think that is because we still aren’t giving enough thought to it as we play. It really turns the game upside down, and I would love to play a game on the U.S. map where the longest path bonus is traded in for an “American Explorer” bonus. My extremely minor quibble is that no card for the bonus was included as has been the tradition in other games in the series.
It’s also worth noting what mechanics are not on this map. Both winners of the contest chose to eschew tunnel routes, and I don’t blame them – I’ve made my distaste for them very clear. Finally, we have a map more complex than the original, simpler than Märklin, and without tunnels! This is my favorite map of the series yet, and I have high hopes for the India map if it was considered equally worthy by the Days of Wonder team.
Allow me to briefly explain the team rules before I discuss the map. This map is played with either 2 or 3 teams of 2 (4 or 6 players). Each team sits together so that they play in succession. Each individual player gets a private hand of train cards and a personal stockpile of 27 trains (so that together they have 54 of the same color), and their own hand of tickets. Each player will reveal one of his tickets to his teammate at the start of the game, and the others must be kept secret. Teammates are not allowed to discuss the game with each other, which may be a surprising rule. When players look at tickets, they look at four, and no matter how many they keep, only one is shown to your teammate. In addition, you can spend your turn to reveal two of your tickets to your teammate. Players share train cards somewhat as well: when you draw them, you must decide if your first card goes in your hand or in a common cardholder (both players can use the cards on the cardholder). The second card you draw goes in the other spot. When you draw a face-up locomotive, it must go in the cardholder. The game end is triggered when one team has four or less trains collectively.The map has the usual Globetrotter and Longest Continuous Path bonuses (10 points each).
After play begins, these rules are pretty intuitive, but it is a lot to explain. This map is not for Ticket to Ride beginners. Not only is it a lot to take in, but because table talk is not allowed, it can be extremely hard to communicate your desires to your partner if you’re not an experienced player who understands how to make inferences about the game state. When I played with my wife as my teammate (we’ve played at least sixty games of Ticket to Ride together), I was able to make clear the paths I wanted us to claim by the color of the cards I chose to take. In addition, being deliberate with the tickets that you show to your partner can give them a lot of information. When we played with lesser-experienced players as our partners, we found the “no table talk” rule extremely hard to handle. Of course, you’re free to ignore the rule if you do not like it. If all players are experienced, I think it is a good rule, and it is amazing how much teamwork and inference can be made within the game system without saying anything. In addition, completely open information usually leads to one teammate dominating the conversation and bossing the other around. Part of the problem for us is that the two of us are by far the most experienced Ticket to Ride players that we know, so it’s hard to play a fair game of this map that’s fun for everyone – if you don’t know how to communicate via the game system, team play is just going to be frustrating. Regardless of experience, I feel like the common cardholder for train cards makes the card-collecting side of the game a lot less frustrating and keeps it flowing at a brisk pace. The rules are streamlined and clever – just not for beginners.
The map itself has clearly been given some serious thought, as it needs to be a unique design: a 2-3 “player” map where the players have more trains than usual. Although no one ever ended up completely shut off from a needed city, there were certainly some contentious regions that resulted in inefficient routes, making it tougher to attain the bonus for longest continuous path. I felt like it had the appropriate level of interaction: tight and tense but not frustrating. If I had a complaint about the map design, it would be the tunnels. I already don’t like tunnels, but these are worse than usual: instead of three cards, four to six (as designated on the route) cards are revealed that you must possibly match. That means they require that much more explanation when the team rules are already complicated, and they add that much more luck to the game. In this map in particular, I felt like every turn was crucial, so wasting turns on missed tunnels or over-collecting in preparation for the tunnel could be fatal. Furthermore, there are only a few on the map, making them feel superfluous: some games none were even claimed, and there was never more than one claimed tunnel in any one game. I would have much preferred they simply be left out.
The last part of this map to discuss is the Destination Ticket deck. It consists of 60 (!) tickets, ranging from about 5 to 18 points. In that way it has a similar feel to the USA Mega Game in the 1910 expansion. We often found that in the initial reveal, one player reveals a western ticket (indicating that’s mostly what he kept), while the other player reveals an eastern ticket. However, in every game so far, all teams end up making a full west-to-east connection anyway, so that it isn’t as much of a problem for the team as it appears. In fact, I’ve started to think you should always just keep all five of your tickets on this map so that you don’t need to spend as many turns ticket diving. It seems to me that tickets in this game are crucial. Towards the end of the game, it’s easy to find already-completed tickets, some of which are worth many points. Therefore the amount of turns you’re able to spend ticket diving at the end is of huge importance, and the luck of those draws can have a great impact on who wins.
I think late game ticket diving should come with some risk, but on this map I feel like it absolutely does not. I’ve also become a proponent of the “initial long routes only” style of Europe and Legendary Asia, because it requires you to strike more of a balance of points between your tickets, routes, and bonuses. Every game I’ve played of Team Asia has resulted in our team gaining more points in tickets than our routes and bonuses combined, which means that the tickets are the driving force behind winning the game, when I’d rather it be more of the route play, since that is what appears to be the important part of the game, as it’s what is actually happening on the board. This is something you could also house rule by separating out the long tickets at the beginning of the game and dealing them only initially. However, I don’t feel that this needs to be done – as long as players understand the importance of the tickets in this map and draw the parallel to the style of the USA Mega Game, it is still a very interesting and competitive map. It’s just not my preferred “style” of ticket distribution.
Although there are things I dislike about the map, they are hardly deal breakers and are far overshadowed by the awesomeness of the team play. If you’ve got four or six experienced Ticket to Ride players, this map reinvents the game more than most and makes for a challenging, fun experience.
The Whole Package
While I prefer Legendary Asia‘s map and tickets, the team play of Team Asia is still innovative, streamlined, and fun. I feel like this pack satisfies both types of Ticket to Ride lovers: Legendary Asia is the best map with the fewest new rules since the original, and Team Asia is an exciting challenge for pros with less fuss and fiddliness than Märklin. In addition, you are getting two maps for $30 MSRP instead of one map for $50 when you buy a second Ticket to Ride game in the series. If you already own one of the game sets and are looking to expand your Ticket to Ride experience, this is by far the most fun for your money.
In the next few installments of the series, I will finally discuss the card game and the dice expansion, and the upcoming Ticket to Ride: India as well. Until then, may your blind draws always be locomotives.