Ticket to Ride: Marklin

Reviewer Reviewed On Publisher Designer Published In Rating
April 11, 2006 Days of Wonder Alan Moon 2006 10
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There seems to be a few trends in the gaming industry these days. One is of companies, who once they 've produced a hit game, produce many sequels and spin-offs of this hit. Another is of folks who like to complain about these new additions, accusing the company of simply cashing in on their original game's popularity. In some cases, this charge is true, but Ticket to Ride certainly doesn't follow this trend. Each of the three Ticket to Ride games has the same basic mechanic, but Alan Moon tends to rework the mechanics like a composer rearranging the score to a movie, altering it so that it has the same basic music, but with an entirely different flare. Ticket to Ride: Marklin (Days of Wonder, 2006 - Alan Moon) is like the full realization of the original game - the main part of the marvelous symphony that is Ticket to Ride.

While I will still point newcomers to the original game for its cheerful simplicity, T2R Marklin is an incredible version of the game, adding more tenseness, more options, and a lot of "beef" to the game. Tickets are more streamlined, the artwork surpasses even the great illustrations of the original, and the game rates a "10" for me. My wife and I adore it as a two-player game; and with many players, the tension and fun increase quite a bit. Most people have already found the virtues of the original game; let me expound on the new items discovered in this version.

1.) Marklin: According to sources I've read, Marklin is the premier company in the world for model railroads, remaining that way for over one hundred years. The artwork and theme of the game ties into this, with the most notable being that of the cards. Unlike the previous versions of T2R, each card shows a different train model from the Marklin line. This actually isn't as confusing as it sounds, because the color of the cards as well as the symbols in the corner clearly identify what lines they match. But the different trains certainly add an "oh cool!" factor to the game; and when playing the cards, it adds a bit of a pleasant variety to the landscape of the game. I wish more games would have varied artwork like this in a game; it adds to the aesthetic value considerably, allowing a more enjoyable playing experience.

2.) Rules: The rules are actually shorter than I expected, but are very clearly done - on six full color pages with tons of illustrations and examples. A note in the beginning points out the rule changes that T2R veterans should note. As I said in the beginning, I would prefer to use the original T2R game to introduce beginners to; but I've successfully played the Marklin edition with new folk, and they were able to catch on quickly (although I did win because of my experience).

3.) Map: In this version, the map is of Germany, on the board in a vertical fashion. I really enjoyed the way the routes were spread across the board. In the southwest corner, there are a lot of small routes connected to important cities, while longer routes are spread on the sides of the board. In fact, there are even seven length routes in this game that are worth eighteen points. That makes them slightly worth more than a six point route (2.57 a train rather than 2.5), but not so much that they are overpowering. Unlike the original game, going for a strategy in which a player simply tries to take long routes isn't terribly viable. Two other things that are notable about the map are the fact that there are a couple triple routes (helps in the very tight spots) and some countries rather than cities - not a big deal, but connecting to France can be done in three different spots, rather than a single city.

4.) Wilds: There are wild cards, just as in the basic game, but a new kind of wild card is also included in the deck, the "+4" wild. This locomotive card can only be used in a route that is four or more trains long but counts as a wild. Before you get discouraged at this powering down of a wild card; however, these cards can be drawn from the face up cards, counting only as one card (unlike the two cards that normal wild cards cost). These cards are good, and I've never seen a player not pick them up on their turn, unless they were laying down a critically important route.

5.) Passengers: By far, the most interesting and important change to this version of the game is the addition of passengers and freight. At the beginning of the game, each city on the board has one or more tokens placed on it, depending on the color of the city. White cities have a single "2" token placed on them, while red and yellow cities have three tokens placed on them with descending values (starting at "4" and "3", respectively). Berlin is a special city with four tokens with descending values starting from "7" placed on it. Players each receive three passenger tokens to play during the game. When laying a route down between two cities, a player may place a passenger into one of the cities (only one passenger may be in a city). On future turns, a player may move one of their passengers to gather these merchandise tokens. Passengers may only move on a player's own lines and pick up the top token in each city they pass through. A player can, however, move over a single opponent's line for each passenger card (ten in the deck) they play. No matter what, however, a passenger may only move over a line once on their trip. At the end of the trip the player discards the passenger from the game and totals the score from the chips they've collected. The passengers add an entirely new level to the game. I'm not sure that a player can win by ignoring them; although I suppose it's possible) because they garner a lot of points. The trouble that players will find themselves in is deciding where to place a passenger, and when and where to move the passenger to maximize their own points. Setting up a clever network (and gathering cards) can be pretty neat and allows a player to score a huge number of points (our record is thirty-four right now); but if you hold off too long, another player will move their passenger first, robbing you of several points. I've seen games come down to only a few points, which most likely were passenger points.

6.) Tickets: While I never had a huge problem with the ticket distribution in the original game, I have heard complaints from some about bad ticket draws. While I disagree with these allegations, I think that the complainers will be much happier with the way tickets are handled in Marklin. First of all, there are two piles of tickets, a pile of short routes (five to eleven points) and a pile of long routes (twelve to twenty-two points). When drawing tickets, players draw FOUR tickets from either or both piles - their choice. Thus, if a player wants to simply concentrate on a bunch of short routes and moving passengers, they never have to draw a long ticket. Players who love connecting lengthy routes can draw exclusively (or mostly) from the long ticket pile. Everyone who has played the game with me is in favor of this system; it gives the player a feeling of more control.

7.) Bonus Tile: A big change to the game is the new bonus tile included with the game. Not only is the "longest route" card missing from the game, but this bonus tile gives ten points to the player who connects the most routes. This is an added incentive to complete a pile of short routes and is a lot easier to add up at the end of the game.

8.) Components: The components are of a very high quality, equal to the standards of previous Days of Wonder games. Notable changes are the new artwork on the cards (which is really quite good) and the new passenger pieces (which are cute little models of folks holding two suitcases), which are very distinguishable on the board. I also enjoyed how one of the colors of the trains is purple - a new color for Ticket to Ride. The small merchandise tokens were a little more fiddly than I would have liked (and I'm in constant fear of losing one), and setting them up is a little more effort than your typical T2R game; but it wasn't a big deal - just something I noted.

9.) Tension and Fun Factor: I've always enjoyed Ticket to Ride because of the tension that it brings. Do you draw more cards, or lay down the route before your opponent does? This was a simple, yet effective way to have fun. There was some blocking in the first two games, yet rarely was there much contention between players. However, in Marklin, the tension has ratcheted upwards considerably. Not only are the tickets and routes laid out in such a way as to increase competition between players, but players also have to deal with the passengers. Players now have the choice of moving their passengers at any time - but when is the best time to move? Move too early, and you'll only get a few chips - albeit the higher point valued ones. Move too late, and there won't be much for you to take. In a couple games, another person moved their passenger THE TURN BEFORE I was going to move mine, causing me to utter a yelp of anguish at my slowness. This, dear readers, it what makes T2R Marklin so much fun. While not a game in which players are in direct confrontation, the routes and merchandise tokens cause a high level of interaction and fun. There is a high level of tension in the game, which is something that most people enjoy (at least in small doses), because it gives you that feeling of "next game - "I'll do better!"

10.) Players: Marklin makes a great two player game, which is my wife's preferred style of play. But with multiple players, especially three and five, the game becomes rather tense, as I just mentioned; and there is a lot more cutting off of routes and races to move the merchandise tokens. I think five is my favorite number to play with, although three is probably the most cutthroat.

There is probably more that I can say about Ticket to Ride: Marklin, but I can sum it up in "more of the same fun, with different terrific options enabled." I suspect that Ticket to Ride fans will be delighted with this "advanced" version of the basic game, although some might prefer the simplicity of the first design. Yet even though there is more going on in Marklin, it still retains a simple play format, and the options added are quite natural. I encourage anyone who shied away from the original game ("because it was simple and boring") to give this version a try; it's not simply an expansion but a completely new game. At the same time, players who thought T2R: Europe had too much luck might enjoy the lessening of luck in this version. While I'll still retain the original game and Europe for teaching newcomers how to play this series, Marklin is definitely my choice right now. It's a fantastic game and is one of the most balanced systems I've ever played. Alan Moon has proved that Ticket to Ride is not a tired franchise, but rather a series of exciting, interesting games.

Tom Vasel
"Real men play board games"