01 March 2016
Owen Duffy finds out if it’s full steam ahead or leaves on the line for the latest Ticket to Ride expansion.
Days of Wonder | Route building/set collecting | £25.99 | 2-5 players | 60 minutes | www.daysofwonder.com
If you’re reading this magazine, there’s a good chance you have a copy of Ticket to Ride on your game shelf. Released in 2004, Alan R. Moon’s train travel game has become one of the most successful titles in the tabletop gaming industry, with worldwide sales in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
If you’ve been into gaming for a while, though, there’s an equally good chance that your copy is sitting gathering dust. While its simplicity and charming artwork have made it popular among those just getting into board games, Ticket to Ride is often overlooked by more experienced players who’ve moved on to more complex offerings. But if you have a soft spot in your heart for steam trains and route-building, publisher Days of Wonder has released a series of upgrades and add-ons which bring new features - and longevity - to the game. Some, like Ticket to Ride Europe or Nordic Countries, are complete standalone games in their own right. Others, like the Netherlands or India Map Packs, are expansions which require a copy of the original game to play, and add new locations to explore and rules to discover.
Ticket to Ride: United Kingdom is the latest addition to the Map Packs collection, and it’s the biggest departure from the “vanilla” Ticket to Ride formula to date. Set in the 19th century at the dawn of the steam age, it casts players as would-be rail barons attempting to build the most profitable transport network across a map of the UK and Ireland (and before anyone gets excessively pedantic, the game is set before the establishment of the Republic of Ireland, so the game’s title isn’t an error).
If you’re an experienced player, you’ll find much of the game familiar. You’ll still need to collect sets of cards to build routes between cities. You’ll still try to link up specified locations as dictated by a collection of tickets. You’ll still howl in frustration as the route you needed to complete your critical link between London and Newcastle is snatched by another player.
But the UK map offers some new challenges. The board is divided into four sections, one for each of the nations that constitute Great Britain and Ireland. When the game begins, you’ll only be able to build routes in England. To move into Scotland, Ireland or Wales you’ll need to buy a concession giving you the right to expand into each territory - paid for using locomotive cards that could otherwise help to build routes for your nascent rail empire.
You’ll also begin the game restricted to building short routes between nearby cities, reflecting the primitive technology available at the start of the age of steam. As the game progresses you’ll be able to upgrade your trains, fitting them with innovations like mechanical stokers or super-heated steam boilers. These grant you new abilities, allowing you to build longer stretches of track, claim overseas ferry routes, draw additional cards on your turn or claim extra points for completing certain routes.
This adds a tonne of newfound depth to the game, opening up a variety of potential winning strategies. It’s also very strong thematically, and it’s easy to imagine yourself as a sharp-elbowed entrepreneur, riding the wave of the industrial revolution to become a powerful railway magnate.
That said, this isn’t an expansion for players who are completely new to the hobby. That’s partly because it adds quite a bit of complexity to a game which has always been praised for its accessibility. But it’s also because it makes the Ticket to Ride experience markedly more competitive. Forcing all of the players to start the game in one area of the map means that you’re battling for prime routes from the very first turn. With space so limited, it feels a bit like a punch-up in a phone booth.
Acquiring new technology is also a huge part of the game, and if you don’t make good choices early on, it’s possible that you’ll find yourself locked out in the later stages, with other players establishing a lead that’s difficult to overcome.
None of these are points against the game, though, and as long as you go into it with the expectation of more ruthless competition than you might be accustomed to, there’s a lot to love in this expansion. It benefits from the sort of production values Days of Wonder has become synonymous with, and everything from the box art to the card illustrations is gorgeous.
The expansion also comes with a double-sided board, and while you’ll probably want to play with the UK map first, on the reverse you’ll find a map of Pennsylvania and its surrounding region. It was here, in 1809, that rails were first used to carry freight. But if that level of historical geekery doesn’t interest you, it also offers another new spin on Ticket to Ride that sees you and your friends investing in each other’s rail lines while building your own links between cities.
Each time you build a new route, you’ll have the opportunity to buy shares in one of nine different railway companies. At the end of the game you’ll score additional points for each company you own a stake in, with the greatest bonus going to the majority shareholder. Mechanically, it’s not a huge addition to the base game. But it does add an intriguing new layer of strategy, forcing you to think about more than just completing the routes assigned by your destination tickets.
For fans of Ticket to Ride, this is a great addition to a favourite game. If you’re a former player who’s moved on to other things, then the UK Map Pack might just draw you back in. It keeps the core simplicity that’s made the game a worldwide hit, but it adds a level of depth and variety that’s fresh and challenging. It manages all of this without venturing into the level of complexity you’ll find in niche titles aimed at hardcore train enthusiasts. If that sounds like your idea of fun, climb aboard!
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