Ticket to Ride Heart of Africa is the third map collection expansion for the base games of Ticket to Ride. Released in 2012 by publisher Days of Wonder, from designer Alan R Moon, this expansion for 2 – 5 players is set in the lower half of Africa. This is a single-side board expansion, unlike some of the other map collections, though still introduces new mechanics to the series. Note that a base game (Ticket to Ride or Ticket to Ride: Europe) is required to play, due to train pieces not being included in this expansion. So, is the journey across the African terrain worth it? Let’s find out!
At the offset of the game each player chooses a colour of train carriages, from a base game box and places their matching scoring marker on zero on the tracker. Then, everyone gains 4 destination tickets, 4 train cards and 1 terrain card. For those who don’t know the base game rules the destination cards, which you must keep at minimum two, are secret objectives that show two cities for players to link – with the addition of countries like Chad and Sudan as potential options. Linking these together over the course of the game will score you points at the end, though failing to do so will lose you points.
Train cards are the bread and butter of the Ticket to Ride franchise, with players collecting sets of colours to spend to claim routes on the board. For example, a red route of length 3 would require 3 red train cards, or the wild locomotives, to be claimed. Claiming routes will score points depending on the route’s length. Terrain card then swoop in changing the traditional point system. The deck of terrain cards is made of three types, each with feature three route colours: Desert/Savanna cards for yellow, orange and red routes; Jungle/Forest cards for green, blue and purple routes; and Mountain/Cliff cards for black, white and grey routes.
On a turn players can choose to take terrain cards. This is flexible as players can draw two cards, in any combination from the train or terrain decks or markets. Whenever claiming a route players can decide to also play terrain cards, 1 for routes of length 1 – 3 and 2 for routes of length 4 – 6. By doing this the points earnt are doubled, meaning 30 points could be on offer for a 6 long route! Once claimed the train pieces are added to the board like normal, the cards are discarded and there is no sign given that would suggest they were claimed with terrain cards. When it comes to scoring players cannot leave it until the end of the game, neither can the periodically double check if their points are correct. This can be somewhat of a problem for forgetful players/groups.
The terrain cards change the dynamic of claiming routes somewhat, almost introducing a push your luck aspect into the game. Effectively players will have to weigh up waiting to draw terrain cards, to double the score earnt from a route, with the potential another player may block them – especially as taking terrain cards can give information away about what route you plan to claim. This will surface more in games with players whom are keen to block one another. So, those whom play Ticket to Ride “nicely”, all doing their own thing individually, may not see the same impact, other than the change in points scored.
One of the first thing that players will notice when playing Ticket to Ride Heart of Africa is the way the map’s routes are distinctly split into colour regions. These regions match the types of terrain cards so combo nicely, with players able to quickly identify optimal bonus scoring routes. Aside from the unusual colour segments the board features a few flairs of African animals to instill some theme and location into the game.
A crying shame when it comes to majority of the expansion boards is the amount that it reveals your geography based ineptitude. While most gamers are fine with the European or American based maps, similar to the Asia map pack, people have struggled due to not being familiar with the layout of Africa and some of its cities. This can see players scanning the board for that bit longer at the start of the game to located the exact cities they need to link for destination cards. For experienced players this slight lull in time is fine. Conversely, I’d be hesitant to introduce new players to the Ticket to Ride franchise with a map they would not be confident with, mostly to give them a smooth as possible first time play. Pointing out that the destination cards feature the map can dramatically help this issue, and is surprisingly something often missed by new players.
As with other map packs Ticket to Ride Heart of Africa manages to slightly shake up the traditional formula, via the colour zones on the board and the double points on offer from terrain cards. It is a shame that unlike other packs it is only a one sided board, especially as the price is only minutely lower. Despite the geography based issues however the difficulty of the game isn’t overly increased, allowing it to slot nicely into a family style collection. If you’ve disliked other expansions for not overhauling the experience perhaps the United Kingdom map pack is more for you, otherwise Ticket to Ride Heart of Africa is more of the same family friendly fun.
[Editor’s Note: Ticket to Ride Heart of Africa was provided to us by Asmodee UK for review purposes. The game is currently available on 365 Games for £18.99. It is also available from local UK board game stores, find your local store here]