Alan R. Moon and Days of Wonder are back with their latest entry into the Ticket to Ride series, rebooting the older Zug Um Zug variant to bring us Ticket to Ride Germany. Ticket to Ride Germany is a brand-new base game built for 2 – 5 players: coming with a full map of Germany, 5 colourful sets of train carriages, hundreds of cards and what makes this version different, passenger meeples! A standard game will last around 45 – 60 minutes with the full player count but this can go lower as less players are around the table.
First, a quick summary of the basic game to those whom don’t know of the franchise. In the middle of the table is a map of, in this version, Germany. Across this map are a number of colourful train routes linking stations. These stations are cities of Germany. On a turn, players will either draw Train cards, claim a route or draw new destination tickers. Train tickets come in the colours that routes on the board are made of. To claim a route a set of a coloured Train cards matching the colour of that route is required, the amount set by the length of the route. As with all Ticket to Ride games the aim is to complete destination cards which have two cities which you must somehow link: scoring points if completed or losing points if left incomplete.
Having not played the original Zug Um Zug or Marklin version I cannot comment on the intricate differences in the passenger mechanic, but it does at least sound like a simplified system. When claiming a route between any two stations players get to take a passenger meeple from each end of the route. If a station has only one meeple you don’t get a choice, though this is still better than if it has none remaining. Some of the bigger cities of Germany, such as Berlin or Stuttgart, have multiple passengers. Players claiming a route into these cities still only get to claim one meeple but get a choice of colour.
Choice is important as collecting sets of the colourful meeples can bag players a lot of bonus points. At the end of the game bonus points are awarded for two reasons. Firstly, whomever has completed the most destination tickets gets a 15-point Globetrotter bonus. Then, comes the passenger points. For each colour of meeple whichever player has the most gets 20 points. If two, or more, players draw both get the bonus and no-one else gets points for that colour passenger. If only one player gets the most of a colour the player that has the second most of that colour gets 10 bonus points. This is done for all colours individually.
This can see rather large point swings when the game has finished. Initially, I was worried this could completely distort the scoring of the game, with long destination tickets rarely even reaching the 20-point mark. It even puts to shame the 15-point Globetrotter bonus. After trying to ignore destination cards and solely go for collections of passenger meeples it just isn’t quite enough. It can change the dynamic of the game though. After players have completed a few destination cards and are starting to run low on trains there is a distinct change in purpose Players tend towards going for routes to guarantee owning the majority of a colour set. Shaking up the gameplay towards the end rather than majorly effecting things throughout the entire game.
Route-wise there is a relatively large blob of grey on the Germany map, and yet it still is a bright colourful board. Grey routes can be claimed by a set of any individual colour. Opening up the opportunity for players to claim routes with less limitations. This area extends across a lot short one and two length routes in the Dortmund to Stuttgart region. Being short in length, and grey, these routes are quick and easy to claim early on, creating a bit of congestion for later on in the game. In a 2 – 3 player game this turns into a route battleground. A lot of these grey routes are double routes, and one is even a single length triple route. In a 4 – 5 player game these can all be claimed but in games with less than 4 players only one of these routes is available, making blocking more likely despite less trains hitting the board.
In other Ticket to Ride games the destination cards are all shuffled together, long and short alike. In Ticket to Ride Germany these piles are split and shuffled separately. Whenever players draw destination cards, either at the offset of the game or during the game, it is up to the player where the cards are drawn from. They can be from the long destination tickets, the short destination tickets or a mixture. How does this shake things up from normal? It adds a little bit more player choice. It also stops the issue of some players receiving only high scoring long routes, while others get short low scoring routes. You can no longer blame the draw of cards on getting one type of route or the other.
There is almost a new strategy when drawing the destination cards. Commonly at the start of Ticket to Ride Germany where players draw 5 destination cards is a ratio of 3 short:2 long. During the game it isn’t as common to draw the long destination cards, and not just due to the chances of not being able to complete them. Having a short destination only pile is helpful to those looking to complete multiple routes to earn the Globetrotter bonus. There are trade-offs to be made and I’m still not sure on the best way to play, but learning a tactic to use is part of the fun.
The passengers meeples don’t add many new rules to the game so I am surprised that tunnels and ferries are not included on the Germany board. As the geography of Germany goes I understand that three quarters of its boarders are to land. Nevertheless, there are still a few routes towards the north that, on the game board, are visibly over water. The country is also relatively flat but towards the south there are mountains yet tunnels seemingly didn’t make the cut. It makes sense to minimise the rules to keep the accessibility of the game wide open, these are just two rules I really enjoyed from other Ticket to Ride maps.
As mentioned, I believe this has been done to increase the accessibility of Ticket to Ride Germany, for inexperienced gamers and younger audiences. Ticket to Ride as a franchise has always offered an incredible opportunity for new players to get into the hobby and this offering is no different. If you’re after a gateway game to open peoples’ eyes to the world beyond Monopoly this is a really nice map to do it with. Not only are the rules kept concise but the board with colour meeples covering it is a visual treat that grabs the attention of everyone.
Whether you are new to the franchise or are already a fan, Ticket to Ride Germany offers plenty of entertainment value. With the passenger meeple mechanics included there is enough of a difference gameplay-wise to offer a new experience, whilst not changing the difficulty levels of learning the rules. The consistent base mechanics of the Ticket to Ride franchise are kept and only slightly added to. So, you should comfortably be able to get this game to the table with gaming friends and family members alike. The game takes the aspects of set collection to the next level with coloured meeples, the same meeples that vibrantly decorate the board before trains are placed. Looking to the future, as a base game this could be used to expand your collection at a later date but it is far from necessary. Ticket to Ride Germany will warrant plenty of playtime on its own.
[Editor’s Note: Ticket to Ride Germany was provided to us by Days of Wonder for the review.]