Saturday, 27 May 2017

Ticket To Ride: Pennsylvania

Plays: 2Px6.

I hadn't planned to play Ticket to Ride: Pennsylvania. One fine weekend I felt like playing basic Ticket to Ride with the family on iOS (because it's quick). I found that the app had been removed from the Appstore, replaced by a new version. If you have bought the old version before, you get the new version for free, plus the Pennsylvania map. I dove into this new map without even reading the rules. Bad idea. I didn't know what I was doing. The interface is good, but not miraculous enough to teach you the new rules. Eventually I had to read the in-game rules to understand how things work.

The physical boardgame expansion contains two maps, Pennsylvania and United Kingdom. At the moment the UK map is not yet implemented in the app.

The Game

There are many long routes along the outer edges of the map. At the top left, there are ferry routes to Canada. This route type specifically requires jokers (locomotive cards).

The Pennsylvania map introduces the shareholding mechanism, albeit a simple one. Next to most routes you see logos of railroad companies. Whenever you complete a route, you get to claim one share of one of these companies. In this photo there are three logos on the route between Scranton and New York. There are four between Scranton and Allentown. Shares are scored at game end. Each company gives out points to the largest two or three shareholders. The bigger the company, i.e. the more shares that can be claimed, the higher the payout.

When you check the status of shares, this is what you see. The panel on the right shows all currently available shares. There are two numbers on each share. The first number is the sequence number of the currently available share. The second number is the total number of shares. At the top, the company JCL has three shares in total. One has been claimed, so the one currently available is the second share.

The panel at the bottom shows what I own. The large white numbers are the number of shares. Of the two smaller numbers, the first one refers to the lowest share sequence number that I have for that particularly company. The second number is the total number of shares of the company. The sequence number is important because it is a tiebreaker. When the game ends, if two shareholders have the same number of shares, the tie is broken by whoever has invested in the company earlier. You check the lowest sequence number you have. Let's take the company WM as an example. 1/4 means I was the first to have claimed a share from this company. The big 2 means I hold two shares. This means I will definitely score 1st position for WM. Even if another player also has two shares, I will win by tiebreaker because I was first to invest in this company.

This is when shares scoring is done. For this company, Michelle (FYV) has three shares and scores 10pts. Both the dummy player and I (HCS) have one share each. However since the dummy player has claimed a share earlier, it gets the 6pts for being in 2nd place. I only get 3pts for being in 3rd place.

The Play

When I started playing the Pennsylvania map, the shareholding aspect felt disjointed. It was partly because I jumped in without reading the rules. It felt like the game had veered away from the original simplicity. It took me a few plays to get comfortable. I eventually realised that the addition isn't all that complicated. However it is still an additional layer to think about, with new tactical considerations, more things to remember, more things to calculate in your mind. If you prefer Ticket to Ride to stay simple, you may not like this.

When the game starts, you must keep at least three tickets. Most of the time you do want to complete all three, because otherwise the penalty can be painful. As you work on the three tickets, you will collect shares,and you will compete with other players in shareholding. You can plan your routes based on the shares you want to collect. I don't do that myself because I find that too tiresome. I plan routes based on the usual considerations in basic Ticket to Ride - e.g. shortest path, availability of the colours I need. Shares are nice-to-have bonuses, at least when I'm still trying to complete my tickets. I do take note of what my opponents are collecting, and when given an opportunity to thwart them, I would. I just don't go out of the way to perfectly align my share collecting with my route building. When I complete my tickets, there are two general directions I can go in. I either get more tickets and continue to focus on completing them, or I forget about tickets and switch to compete in shares. In the latter case, I may build routes outside of my network, just because they give me the shares I want. This is something different from basic Ticket to Ride. In the basic game, you build isolated routes mostly to mess with an opponent (you evil person!) or to score a long route.

The shareholding mechanism affects timing. Sometimes you are tempted to claim routes early because of the first investor advantage.

Michelle and I played 2-player games, which come with additional rules related to a dummy player. When completing a route, you first claim a share for yourself, and then you claim one for the dummy player. So when the game ends, the dummy player has as many shares as both players added up. Half the dummy player's shares are randomly discarded before shares scoring is done. You can use the dummy player to help yourself or hinder your opponent, e.g. exhausting the shares of a company to deny your opponent. Due to the dummy player rules, the 2-player version is more complicated. I have not tried playing with 3 or more, so I can't say how different it is.

The Thoughts

What Pennsylvania introduces is the shareholding mechanism. It's not very complex, but it is an additional layer on top of the basic gameplay. Some may not like it because it deviates from the original straightforward nature of the game. It is something different. Some who have played many versions of Ticket to Ride may welcome the new twist.

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