Wednesday, 9 July 2008

many new games, Ticket to Ride Card Game

I have been playing many new games lately. Some are newly arrived purchases, and most are games I played at Carcasean boardgame cafe in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah. I am in Sabah for holidays, and whenever I am back, I always visit Carcasean to try new games. They are doing well. There have been boardgame cafes opening in Malaysia and then soon closing down. But Carcasean is doing well. The few times I was there, they were more or less full. And these were on weekdays too. Also their customers seem to be a less nerdy and less gamer-like than other boardgame cafes. They have wide appeal. I saw many young people, who look like secondary school students, and young adults, of both genders. It is quite a family-friendly environment, not at all like a hobbyist or specialist place. I am happy for them that they have managed to reach out to a wide market.

It'll take me some time to write about all the recent new games that I have played, so I'll probably just take my time to write about them one by one. Let's start with Ticket to Ride: The Card Game. Michelle likes the Ticket to Ride games, and I already own 3 games (original, Europe, Marklin) and 2 expansions (USA 1910, Switzerland). There was never much doubt that I'd buy the card game version. Now that I hear that the Nordics version will come out in English too (previously only available in Scandinavia), I am thinking of getting that too, especially since we really enjoy the Switzerland version, and this Nordics version is also 2/3 players only.

I have read the rules for Ticket to Ride: The Card Game before deciding to buy it. The first thing I noticed (and probably every other gamer also does too) is the memory element. I am usually not that fond of a memory element in games. First warning light. Then there is a nasty element of being able to force your opponents to discard cards. Second warning light...

This is how the game works. Similar to games in the Ticket to Ride family, you try to complete tickets by collecting train cards. You gain points for completing tickets, and lose points if you fail to do so. On your turn, you can draw train cards from a pool of 5 face-up cards or the face-down draw deck; you can draw ticket cards (and in contrast to other games in the series you can decide to keep none if none fancy you); and you can play train cards. Train cards that you play go to an exposed area first, called the railyard, and they are vulnerable until they get moved to your safe deck, called the on-the-track stack. Cards can be played to your railyard in 2 ways, either a column of a single colour with 2 or more cards, or 3 single cards of different colours. The tricky part is, you cannot play a colour if it is already on the tably (in front of another player or even yourself), except when you to a train robbery, by playing more cards of a single colour than the cards of that colour already on the table. This, is the "nasty element" mentioned earlier. On your next turn, you can save one card from each of the columns in your railyard, and move them to your on-the-track stack. At game end, you use these safe cards to try to complete your tickets. Each ticket needs one or more cards of various colours to complete. You cannot examine your on-the-track stack during the game. Hence the memory element.

I have played some 2 player games and one 3 player game. The first game was the most challenging, as I tried to remember all the cards that I have saved into my on-the-track stack, and trying to work out whether I have completed all tickets in my hand. Later I devised a method to try to keep track. I'm not sure whether this is a good way to play. Some say in this game you shouldn't try to do that, and should just play with a rough idea of what colours you have a lot of and what colours you do not have many of. However I couldn't get myself to not try to remember my colours. The method I use is whenever I save some cards, I try to see whether these cards complete a ticket. If they do, I take that ticket from my hand and put it face down in front of me. Then I don't need to worry about it anymore. If the newly saved cards only complete some tickets partially, then I arrange those tickets in my hand in such a way that the colours just saved are hidden behind other cards. I can't see them anymore, so I don't need to worry about them anymore. This method helped me a lot, but I often end up holding cards in my hand in a very very convoluted way.

This was a two-player game against Michelle. It was game end and we were checking how many tickets we have completed. I had many leftover jokers (bottom right), and I should have drawn more tickets or kept more tickets drawn.

There are the six big cities cards, showing the bonus points to be awarded.

Some ticket cards with the train cards used to complete them.

Another important aspect in the game is connections to the 6 big cities. No doubt this is inspired by the Big Cities variant that came with the USA 1910 expansion. At game end, 6 cities award points to the player(s) who have most tickets connecting to them. I have not really worked out a strategy on how to maximise my points from these cities cards, other than trying to complete as many cities as possible. During the games, trying to complete tickets is already taking up all my brainpower and I have not thought about the big cities much. Maybe one thing that can be done is focusing on certain colours, because each big city has a colour and tickets connecting to that city all have that colour. Another thing is when drawing tickets, to choose many short tickets, preferbly the ones going to the big cities that you are focusing on.

The nastiness that comes from train robbing turned out to be fine for me. I think without it, there will be too little player interaction. In Ticket to Ride, there can be some nastiness when you claim a route that your opponents need, sometimes even when you don't need it yourself, you are doing it just to harm your opponents (损人不利己). How (intentionally) nasty you want to play is up to your group, and Michelle and I prefer to play without intentional nastiness, i.e. if we do need the connection we will compete for it. Similarly in Ticket to Ride: The Card Game you can decide how nasty you want to play. You can hoard some colours or a lot of jokers (locomotives), and wait until an opponent plays a big column of cards, before you play that same colour, and discard all of his/her cards. This can be devastating. You can play just a little nasty. When you opponent plays 3 cards of different colours, you then play 2 cards or more of one of those colours, to discard just one of his/her cards. You can play tricky nasty. Play single cards, tempt your opponent into playing a column of a single colour to discard one of your single cards, then play a bigger column to discard his/her column. You can play no nasty. If you opponents have cards of a colour that you want to play in front of them, you wait until they are all saved before you play the same colour. Michelle and I play the mildly nasty way, i.e. focusing more energy on our own tickets than actively trying to hinder each other. I like this train robbing aspect. It makes the decisions much more interesting. If you play 3 singles of different colours, the risk of losing all three is small, but since they are single cards, they are more vulnerable, and you cannot play jokers this way. If you play a big column, it is riskier, because even if your opponents do not have enough cards of the same colour (and jokers) to discard it immediately, they can wait until it has shrunk a bit (after some of the cards have been saved to your on-the-track stack). Since it takes several turns to save all the cards in the column, your opponents may even draw some cards of the right colour so that they can attack you before all your cards are saved. So basically you can play safe by doing 3 single colours, or you can play aggressively using columns. Columns are offensive weapons, but are also risky and can be counter attacked.

Some say that the game reminds them more of Mamma Mia that the Ticket to Ride boardgames. I think it is more similar to its boardgame predecessors. It is just the memory element that makes people associate it with Mamma Mia. You still have your own stack of cards that you try to complete your tickets with, not a common pool like in Mamma Mia. Also there is no timing element like in Mamma Mia. The order in which cards are played into your own stack is not important. Mamma Mia is a simpler game, and is also one that I quite like. Comparing them, I'd say there is more luck in Mamma Mia, it is simpler, lighter and quicker. There is an interesting brinkmanship in the game. Ticket to Ride: The Card Game has a bit more planning and is slightly more complex, with more things to consider. You can see what cards your opponents are picking, and there is more strategy to consider. To me there seems to be less luck too. In Mamma Mia sometimes you feel the planets are aligned for you, and yet sometimes you also feel that you are cursed for generations. In Ticket to Ride: The Card Game you feel you have more control.

So, overall a worthwhile purchase. It's something that Michelle would play, which I also enjoy.

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