Thursday, April 28, 2005

WAGS for beginners

There were two themes at play last night: Games which are good for beginners AND games which are "nearly new" (which is to say that they are new, but related to other games we have already played).

Games in question: Ticket to Ride:Europe, Carcassonne Princess and the Dragon and High Society.

Ticket to Ride:Europe was up first. When we played the original some time ago, I felt that it was a good game but I had very little urge to play it again. I could understand it's popularity... it's beautiful, it's pretty easy to understand and also fairly quick. On the other hand, game play was a little TOO simple, and it became clear fairly quickly that going for the long routes was the way to go strategically. When this new edition came out, I had heard that the game was pretty much the same but it had been tweaked to make it more tense and more strategic while maintaining the fun and simplicity.

Did it work?


In most ways, I liked it better. For the curious, here's a break down of the changes:

Tickets: Players are dealt one long route and 3 short routes to start the game, rather than 4 pure randomly drawn cards. This levels the playing field, which is a good thing, because getting no long routes in the original would put that players at a serious disadvantage.

Routes: There are far more single routes. and far more short routes. This made it more important to grab the routes you needed as soon as you could. The larger number of short routes prevents players from winning the game by just hoarding cards and claiming the long routes.

Stations: Presumably to balance the newfound difficulty in claiming routes, stations were introduced. Their purpose is to allow a player to use a piece of track they failed to claim, BUT ONLY FOR PURPOSES OF CLAIMING TICKETS AT THE END. The cost for placing one is high... 4 victory points and a card for the first, 4 plus a pair for the second one and 4+ a triple for the last. Still, if it completes a lucrative ticket it's certainly worth it. A few of these were built during our game, and it's interesting how the dynamic of shorter single routes mixed with the stations affect the planning and blocking strategies in the game. I found myself on more than one occasion calculating how long I could leave certain destinations open based on whether there were two routes vs one, and whether I could afford a station there if I got beat to the punch.

Tunnels,: Any route highlighted by a black outline is a "tunnel". These routes are less predictable than normal routes... a player trying to claim one must have all the required cards and then draw 3 more. If any of the drawn cards match the colour of the route, that many more cards must be played or the player loses their turn and fail to claim the route.

Ferries (no Shemp, not Fairies): These are, predicably, water routes and are always gray. Normally, a gray route can use any colour, but a ferry REQUIRES that a certain number of locomotive cards be used. This raises the value of the locomotive (wild) cards and means they actually get drawn from the face up pile once in a while!

That pretty much sums up the changes. Overall, it felt more similar to the original than I expected. On one hand, Ferries and tunnels feel a little like "novelty"... not really significant strategic changes. One the other, the more restricted layout makes the competition more intense for the routes (but the stations keep it from being too easy to block your opponents). It's an overall improvement, but not a drastic one. I'll be looking forward to playing this one with people who aren't into heavy games (I'd still pick Pirate' Cove as my favorite Days of Wonder game, however... but this one IS more approachable). Luch wound up beating us all by a hair, through a combination of grabbing the longest route and fulfilling all his tickets. Two things sunk me to second: 1)I played my last move conservatively by going for the 6 segment tunnel when I had an excellent chance of completing the eight segment one, and 2) I drew a ticket late in the game which I didn't fulfill. Either one of those decisions, done differently, would have won me the game!

Two more observations (Shemp's, actually): First, the mechanics of the game mean that the board's change to shorter routes leads to a slightly longer game (the game ends once a player gets down to two or less trains, which takes longer when most turns involve placing only 2 or 3 trains). Second, the East half of the board, which is less congested than the west, seems like a better bet to go for (for that reason)It certainly worked for Luch, who was largely uncontested in that end while he quickly built his ridiculously long route. Hmmm. We'll have to try it againt to test that theory!

Carcassonne, the Princess and the Dragon, is the latest in the long list of expansions for this WAGS favorite. It transports the game to a place of magic and creatures (this is not necessarily somewhere most Carcassonne players wanted to go) In truth, the expansion should have read: Carcassonne "let's get the complacent Meeples off the board", as most of the mechanics revolve around doing just that.

Let's see, the game adds a dragon which roams around the board eating Meeples and a princess which runs off with the Knights in the cities. A "Teleportation" devices allows a player to place their meeple at any legal space on the board (the rest of the group seemed off-put by these, but I felt it was perfectly reasonable as part of an expansion which seems to go out of it's way to leave partially completed cities and roads all around). Finally, the fairy protects the Meeple it accompanies from the dragon, and gives the last player to move it extra points in various ways (good luck points?). Bottom line: It's much harder to build large cities and long roads, and much harder to maintain farmers until the end.

Over the course of the game, I beleive everyone got knights stolen and meeples eaten. Lucky for me, a central farmer made it to the end and gave me a pile of points at the endgame. We had a running joke going with the dragon and fairy at one end of the board earning that part of town the title of "Flameborrough" (a bad double entendre which caused all of us, but Shemp in particular, to revert to the maturity level of a 12 year old and giggle)

Conclusion: the expansion is fun enough, but I don't think it will get much play time... due to it's lukewarm reception.

And High Society? I love it. Lot's of fun. One thing worth mentioning: We had a round were we all scored 0! That's pretty embarrassing. I almost called the Blog "Orange Bot: WAGS Nemesis", in honour of the orange non-player car which almost beat everyone else at the last game of Formula Motor Racing.

Ticket to Ride: Europe: 7.5
Carcassonne Princess and Dragon: 6


  1. Continuing the commenting on old posts blitz:

    TTR:E : I think that I'm echoing your thoughts, mainly. I don't think that the changes add much to the game, per se, but the constricted board does make things a little more interesting. As far as the Eastern Half of the board being more open, it seems to be the mirror image of the American board. I've always worked in the West of the American board, and so was a little unprepared for what it takes to complete all those little routes. Of course, if more players are trying to work in the wide open spaces, the advantage is pretty quickly negated.

    Slightly more fun than the original, I'll give Ticket to Ride: Europe a 7.5.

    I think the Fantasy Carcassonne, or whatever it is, is fine, but not an improvement on the original. Wouldn't mind playing again. Give that a 7.

    And High Society R0XXORZ! Still.

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.