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Tunnels and Train Stations
on August 3, 2007
The Europe edition of Ticket to Ride stands alone from the basic (United States) and Bavaria/Marklin editions of the game, both in the narrow sense that it is not an "expansion set" to those games, but also in the broader sense that it's a lot more than just the original game with a different map. The rules are fairly similar, so learning all three games only takes a modest amount of time, but the differences across the games alter the strategies a fair bit. Each one feels like a distinct experience.
For those unfamiliar with the series, here's what they all have in common: There is a game board indicating routes among a bunch of cities. The object of the game is to amass the most points, and in one way or another those points come from collecting the routes strategically. Collecting any route between two places will generate points, but each player holds hidden Ticket Cards indicating longer routes of special importance to that person, and stringing together little routes to make this longer connection adds to the payoff (whereas failing to do so imposes a penalty). How do the players take possession of routes? They take turns drawing cards that, when collected into sets, determine which routes they can use, and eventually they start using those cards to claim routes. The main random element is the timing of when those cards turn up in the deck.
The Europe edition contains a few differences from the other two. One difference is that claiming routes is more complicated in this edition. The cost of claiming certain routes is uncertain until you actually try to do it, and some routes require special wild cards to claim (allowing the possibility of a long bottleneck as a player tries to score one of those cards). More important, in terms of changing the gameplay, is the combination of two features: the Train Station rule and the denser map. Whereas an offensive strategy can be effective in the other two games, blocking routes needed by other players, this game offers more feasible routes for connecting cities and allows players to use each others' rails as long as they pay the relatively modest cost of building a station. Gameplay therefore differs significantly between this edition and the others.
Forced to choose, I'd say the Europe edition is the weakest of the three because random elements influence the outcome more than in the other two. Often a player can win right near the end of the game simply by claiming a route from nowhere to nowhere that's worth lots of points. But my family loves all three of them. You don't have to care a whit about trains. You don't have to worry about the backstory provided by the designers, which we found implausible and tossed out in favor of a conventional "robber baron" interpretation of the action. Even small children can enjoy these games, as long as they focus on the pleasure of successfully connecting things instead of focusing on beating the older players. (A suggestion: Keep a pad of paper in the box and track the child's points so that the competition is personal rather than with the adults.) The pace is especially fast, as each player takes turns drawing cards or claiming routes. (My family likes to play a board game while we eat but this one moves so quickly that we have a hard time doing both at the same time.) The boards are gorgeous, the pieces colorful and sturdy. We have just been thrilled with these purchases.