This review was first published by EndersGame at http://boardgamegeek.com/thread/554568 and is reproduced here with the author’s permission.
This is what Ticket To Ride The Card Game should have been!
Although this game has `Railways of the World’ in its title, it’s something that will arguably appeal especially to fans of the `Ticket to Ride’ series. Certainly fans of the `Railways of the World’ series will be pleased to hear news about a card game version of the popular train game. But it’s lighter and much quicker than the Railways of the World board game, so while satisfying existing enthusiasts with a simpler game, it also has the potential to bring the board game to a new audience. That audience is the Ticket to Ride loving crowd. Now if you were one of the folks who was disappointed with Ticket to Ride: The Card Game, you’re not alone: for me the memory component made it too brain-burning, and the take-that factor made it too confrontational. The good news is that the new Railways of the World: The Card Games is what Ticket to Ride The Card Game could have been and should have been. It takes the set-collection mechanic familiar from Ticket to Ride, and gives it a new twist by adding pickup-and-deliver elements from the Railways of the World series. There’s even a simplified variant for families which eliminates cube delivery altogether, and limits point scoring to laying track and controlled cities. First appearing at Origins in June 2010, this great new game deserves a closer look, and I’m here to tell you all about it!
The box is a similar size to some of the games in Gryphon’s two player series, although do be aware that this game scales well for anything from 2 to 4 players. The back of the box highlights the game in play, lists the components, and introduces the game. It’s billed as “a fast paced card game adaptation of the popular Railways of the World board game series. In Railways of the World The Card Game, players use track cards and city cards to build a series of railroad routes and deliver goods! As the game progresses, players work to connect more cities, upgrade their engines for larger carrying capacity and deliver goods through a network of routes across the table.”
Inside the box there’s a solid plastic box insert, which houses all the components nicely:
Here’s what you get inside the box:
● start city hex
● 112 cards
● 60 plastic trains (in four player colours)
● 60 wooden cubes & a cloth bag
● score track
● start player card
● reference cards
Here’s what everything looks like when it’s all hauled outside the box:
The rulebook is similar to the ones that come with many of the Gryphon Games bookshelf series, although it’s more extensive since this is a slightly more complex game than ones like For Sale and High Society.
It is made out of thin card, and consists of 8 pages, of which about five pages are instructions for playing the game. The text is quite small and dense, so it’s not the easiest to read. Fortunately there are quite quite a number of illustrations and examples of play that accompany the text. As someone already familiar with the Railways of the World series, the rules were quite easy to grasp. Perhaps the learning curve might be a bit steeper for people entirely unfamiliar with the track-building and pickup-and-deliver concepts in Railways of the World. The method of drawing cards is similar to Ticket to Ride, so that helps explain part of the game.
You can download a PDF of the rulebook here:
Start City hex
The large Start City hex will be placed in the center of the table, and has six places to which players will be able to connect links with track cards of any colour. Effectively it is like a giant railway hub! It’s quite durable, made out of thick card.
There are additional components, but the heart of this game is in the cards, which are played with a unique tile-laying style mechanic. There’s a deck of 112 cards, shown here in their shrink-wrappy newness:
They’re good quality, and are of similar size to Wings of War cards, in view of the fact that they’re going to laid out all over the table. Here’s a comparison with a regular poker-sized card.
Cards are one of three types: track cards, city cards, and engine cards.
There are 65 Track cards, which look like this:
The five colours are equally distributed, and have a value of either 1 or 2. These are used to connect to and build new cities. A big part of the game is about trying to collect Track cards and City cards, in order to build new links to cities, which will score points during the game (for the Track cards used in the link) as well as at the end of the game (for the City card). It’s worth noting that the publisher has gone the extra mile to include symbols on the cards, for the benefit of our color-blind friends who enjoy gaming.
There are 25 City cards, which look like this:
The City cards come in four different colours: red, yellow, blue, and black. These indicate the types of goods that this city demands and that can be delivered there: wood, grain, ore, and cattle.
The number on the City card indicates the value of the City, which ranges from 2 through 5 (there are five of each value, which the exception of the 3s of which there are ten). The City value determines:
1. how much track is required to build to and establish the city.
2. how many points you get at the end of the game if you are the player with the highest value of track connected to that city.
When a City is built, it will produce the number of goods (cubes drawn randomly from the bag) marked on the center of the card as black squares.
The 21 Engine cards can function as wild cards (i.e. the equivalent of a Track card with a value of 1 in any colour). They can also be used to increase the size of your engine. The amount of engine cards you have played face up in front of you will determine the maximum number of links that you can deliver goods across.
There are 12 trains in four different colours: green, blue, grey, and purple:
Each player gets their own colour. Two trains of each colour are used to keep track of each player’s score on the score board, the other other ten trains of each colour are used to mark the ownership of the links between cities (a mechanic that will be familiar to people who have played the Railways of the World board game).
There are 60 goods cubes in four colours, which correspond to the four types of goods that are produced and can be delivered to cities of matching colour. For thematic reasons, the game assigns the colours as follows: blue = ore, red = wood, black = cattle, yellow = grain. Hurray, there’s no potential for confusion between blue and purple cubes, unlike the board game!
There’s also a white cloth bag that is used for randomizing and drawing the goods.
The score track is on a mounted board, of similar quality to the boards that come with the board game.
Each player will need to use two of the trains in their colour to keep track of their score as the game progresses.
This is used to keep track of the start player. It is important only for the time when the game end is triggered, to ensure that all players get an equal number of turns.
There are four reference cards, one for each player. One side summarizes the Order of Play, the other side summarizes the Scoring. These are very useful, especially when first learning the game.
Each player starts with a set of trains in their colour, and four starting cards (a 2-value city card, an engine card, and two other random cards).
The remaining cards are turned over face down, and three are turned face up. This is called the “Card Selection Area”, and works very much like Ticket to Ride – on every turn, players can draw two cards either from the face-up cards or from the draw pile.
The Start City hex is placed in the middle of the table, and you’re ready to go! Here’s how the complete setup looks for a three player game:
Players take turns to do the following three things in order:
1. Perform one of five possible actions (build new link, play engine card, deliver goods, discard a card to draw/replenish, or pass)
2. Draw two cards from the Card Selection Area, deck or discard pile (only one card if you draw a face-up engine)
3. Check hand size (hand limit of 13)
Note that cards are drawn by players every turn, so unlike Ticket to Ride, you don’t have to decide whether to draw cards or perform an action – in this game you get to do both!
The three steps are nicely summarized on the player reference cards.
Let’s have a closer look at how the different actions work.
● Action: Build link to new city
As an action, you can play a new city card (which gets random cubes added to it). This must be linked to an existing city or to the Start City hex with like-coloured track cards that match tracks into both cities. The tracks to the new city must have a combined value at least equal to the new city. You then score points equivalent to the value of the track cards played.
Here’s an example of how it works: Purple might play a value 2 city which has white track leading into it, by playing two cards white track cards both valued 1. He places one of his train tokens on the link to indicate that he controls it, adds cubes drawn randomly from the bag to the new city (in this case one cube), and also immediately scores 2 points. If you wish, you can place more track cards than the value of the city – in this case Purple could have played white track cards worth a total of 3, to earn 3 points.
When laying track cards to make a link, you can use an engine card as a wild card with a value of 1, as in this example, where Purple has built a new link worth four points:
Unlike the board game, when performing this action you must always build to a new city, and cannot link between two existing cities. You’ll also find that your rail network can take up a lot of room! For this reason, track cards don’t have to be laid end to end in a straight line, but you can curve them or make them overlap according to the available table space.
There’s lots of strategic things to keep in mind when deciding where to build your cities. At the end of the game, city cards in play will be scored to the player who has the highest value of links (measured by the value of all the cards) connected to them, so you can build a large link to an existing city controlled by an opponent in order to steal control of that city for end-game points. On the other hand you’ll also want to create a network where delivering goods will earn you points but not your opponents, so it’s not always a good idea to build adjacent to your opponent’s cities and links.
● Action: Play engine card
Just like in the RotW board game, you need engines to deliver cubes, and you need to increase the size of your engine as you deliver across more links, e.g. an engine size of three enables you to deliver goods from one city to another up to three links away. As your action you can play a single engine card face up in front of you. This remains permanently, and also scores points at the end of the game. As a bonus, whenever you upgrade the size of your engine, you also get a free “deliver goods” action.
● Action: Deliver goods
You can deliver one goods cube from one city to another city that matches the colour of the goods cube. Thematically, it means that the city has a demand for that type of good, so for example, a red cube can only be delivered to a red city. You must own the first link of the delivery route, and have an engine size that is at least equivalent to the amount of links that the delivery will take (note: you cannot move through a city of the same colour as the destination city, because the good must be delivered to the first matching-coloured city that you pass through). Here’s an example of a three-link delivery for the Blue player, which requires an engine of at least three, and will score three points:
You immediately score points for the amount of links you used for the delivery, e.g. a three link delivery earns three points. Unlike the board game, in the card game you also earn points for delivering over a link owned by another player, while they also earn points for each of their links that you use, as illustrated in this next example where Green’s three-link delivery also gives the Purple player a point.
You keep the goods you have delivered, because at the end of the game, you will earn bonus points for various sets of delivered cubes. This aspect of end-game scoring will also factor into the decisions you make about delivering goods. Since it will usually take some time to get the cards you need in order to build links to new cities, you’ll find it’s often worthwhile delivering goods to earn points while you try to set up your hand for a future build action, with the added advantage that cubes delivered can earn bonus points at the end of the game too.
● Action: Discard card to draw a card or replenish a good
As an action, you can discard a card from your hand, and either:
a) take a card from the draw pile or the Card Selection Area (except a face-up engine card), or:
b) replenish a goods cube on an empty city card by taking a random cube from the bag
This is a good option to consider if you are not building to a new city and if you have no cubes to deliver, to try to improve your hand.
● Action: Pass
If no good options are available, you can simply choose to pass and proceed to the card drawing phase (drawing 2 cards), and checking the hand limit (maximum hand size of 13).
Draw Two Cards
After your action, on every turn you may draw two cards, either from the face-up card selection area, or from the draw pile or discard pile. You must then check your hand limit and discard cards if you exceed 13.
Sound complicated? It’s not, because in reality the game-play is straight-forward and flows quite quickly. Most often you’ll either deliver a goods cube (sometimes playing an engine to do so) or build a link to a new city (both earning points), and then draw two cards – next player’s turn!
Game End and Scoring
End of Game
The game ends either when:
1. the deck is exhausted
2. a player runs out of trains
3. there are no more goods left in the bag.
When the end is triggered in this way, all players get to finish their turn, to ensure that everyone has had an equal number of turns. Similar to the board game, this is followed by one final round, with the difference being that in the final round players may only deliver cubes, and may not lay track or play/draw cards.
The player reference card does a good job of summarizing how players earn points during the game and at the end of the game.
● links to new cities: points for the total track value used
● delivering goods: points for the number of links used
End of game scoring
● engines: 1 point for each engine built during the game
● goods collection bonus: points for identical goods (2 points for a set of 3, 3 points for a set of 4) or unique goods (5 points for a set of 4) collected
● city cards: points equal to the value of each city card, for the player with the highest cumulative value of track cards linking into that city
In the example below, a player would earn 10 bonus points for his collection of goods (5 points for each set of unique goods) and 5 bonus points for his engine.
The biggest end-game points comes from the city cards. If you build your links carefully, you can get quite a few points from cities, or even steal potential points from other players by building valuable links to cities that they currently control! Whoever has the most links into a city gets its value in points (both players get the points in the event of a tie). So in the example below, Blue would get the four points for the 4-value black city in the middle, because it has links worth 5 connected to it, while Green only has links worth 4 connected to it.
It’s not impossible to win 30-40 points from cities at the end of the game, so even if you’re behind when final scoring happens, all is not lost! This also means that it’s difficult to tell who is winning at any given time during the game, because the bonus points at the game end will often help determine the winner. There’s rarely a runaway leader, and this ensures that there’s tension right until the last moment!
There is also an official variant for younger players which omits the goods delivery and engine upgrades part of the game. This simplifies the game significantly, since points are only earned during the game by laying down track cards to connect to new cities, and at the end of the game for cities you control. With this family variant, the colours of the cities are irrelevant to the game-play, and it’s much more accessible for younger children. My eight year old had no difficulty playing the Family version, and enjoyed it immensely – as did I! I recommend that families begin with this version of the game, and only later add in the extra complexity of cube delivery when children are ready for it. Here’s an example of a four player game:
The gameplay of the Family version feels quite different – it’s more tactical and less strategic, since point-scoring is all about making new connections and trying to get control of the other cities that are already on the board. In fact, my recommendation would be that even gamers first try the Family version, before moving up to the full game with goods delivery. The Family version is a good game in its own right, requires different strategies, and fits well with the fact that this is essentially a card game with some luck-of-the-draw.
What do I think?
I’ve now played the game about ten times, including several with the Family variant. I liked both forms of the game immediately, and my enthusiasm hasn’t waned. My reflections on various aspects of the game:
Components: The components are decent quality overall. The size of the cards is quite small, but that’s necessary since the cards need to be spread out across the table. The one thing that I don’t like is the amount of colours to keep track of: cities and matching goods (red, yellow, blue, black), tracks (violet, light green, brown, orange, and white), and players (purple, blue, grey, and green). I have no problem keeping the colours apart – in fact, major kudos to the designers for including symbols on the cards to help out colour-blind gamers! But having so many different colours on the table detracts somewhat from the aesthetic appeal, particularly since only the cities and goods are primary colours. Perhaps it’s unavoidable given the variety of different colours that are needed in a game of this sort, but the colours chosen do lack some visual appeal. But that’s just personal preference, and it’s not a significant criticism, because aside from this I have no complaints about the components.
Concept: The end result can look quite chaotic, with tracks going in all directions. But the concept is unique: using cards to denote actual track, and building a system of rails on the game table. It’s great! It’s is a novel use of cards, it works well, and this innovative use of cards makes this stand out from your average card game! (Wings of War is another example in this category). I like games that use cards in new and interesting ways, and Railways of the World The Card Game certainly achieves that!
Randomness: The game certainly does have some randomness, and this will be a reason why some folks will dislike this game. Random elements include not only the card draw, but also the cubes, which are drawn only after making a link, so it is possible to get hosed by some bad draws, and it can be difficult to successfully implement long-term strategies. If you’re a gamer that can’t stand much luck in a game, then you are really not going to like this. But then again, you probably don’t like most card games for similar reasons. It is important to go into Railways of the World The Card Game with correct expectations. If you’re expecting a strategic experience along the lines of the Railways of the World board game, you are setting yourself up to be disappointed – this is a lighter game, and let’s face it, it does have more elements of luck. On the other hand, this is exactly what other gamers will look for and enjoy, because it levels the playing-field somewhat, keeps everyone in the game, and you need to try to find ways to make the best of the cards and cubes that come your way.
Strategy: Despite the random elements, there definitely are important tactical and strategic choices to be made, and these will more often than not determine the winner rather than mere luck-of-the-draw. I particularly like the fact that there are multiple ways to score points. We’ve had several very close games, and even though players opted for different strategies (some prioritizing deliveries, others prioritizing control of cities), the games were very close. I can’t see how you could win if you focused exclusively on only one of these strategies, but you can vary the proportions of the mixture and still be competitive. While this is certainly much lighter than the Railways of the World board game, if you are looking for a casual Ticket To Ride like set-collection experience with a train theme, you’ll find yourself pleasantly surprised by the strategic choices and substance that the game does offer. This is not your average card game.
Length: Most games can be finished in under 45 minutes without any difficulty, and with two experienced players it can be polished off in half an hour. In two player games, the end is usually triggered by a player placing his tenth and final link to a new city, while in games with more players the end is usually triggered by the deck running out. The game time is quite similar regardless of the amount of players, and is perfect for the style of the game. If the game took 90 minutes, the amount of luck would potentially be frustrating, but given that it’s not much more than a 30 minute game, the amount of randomness is just right. If anything, Railways of the World The Card Game offers enough substance to be considerably more satisfying and enjoyable than your average filler.
Family vs Full version: The Family variant is a good addition to the game. While it’s more dependent on the city cards you draw, it’s also more tactical, since it’s primarily about placing new connections in an effort to gain control over cities that your opponents currently control, and you can ignore the need to place your links in a consecutive series that would optimize goods delivery. While this means that the full game is more strategic, I find that the Family variant is actually more interactive – in the full game players will often best be served by building an independent railroad network, maximizing their cube deliveries, and placing new links to steal control of opponent cities only at the very end of the game. Some gamers that might feel hosed by randomness when playing the full game, might even find the Family variant a better choice, because then the game becomes more of a quick filler rather than a strategic card game – although not everyone will appreciate the highly interactive and sometimes confrontational elements as you compete for control of opponent’s cities. I personally enjoy the wider range of strategic decisions offered by the Full game because you need to make longer routes to set yourself up for good deliveries over multiple links, but the Family game is a good option in some settings.
Comparison with Railways of the World board game: The game definitely shares some mechanics with Railways of the World – which is not at all surprising given its title. But it would be a mistake to expect a Railways of the World experience bundled into a card game. First of all, you do not have the same sense of building track on a map as you do in the board game, because this is more of a free-form style of track building. The game is quite tactical, and you can’t do the kind of planning that you can do in the Railways of the World board game. Incorporating some TTR-like set-collection elements does increase the amount of randomness, because the kinds of cities you can connect to are largely going to depend on which cities your draw, unlike the board game where you develop more long-term planning because the cities are printed on the map. Moreover, in the board game the goods are placed at the start of the game, so you can craft long-term strategies, whereas in the card game the goods cubes are drawn whenever you connect to a new city, and whether the colours drawn are to your advantage or disadvantage is outside of your control. As a result, it is much lighter and quicker than the Railways of the World board game, more tactical and less strategic. On the positive side, however, it’s also much faster and more accessible. The simplified variant for Families which eliminates cube delivery and limits point scoring to laying track and points for cities that have the most of your tracks connected is even lighter still, and this will give the card game an appeal to some groups that will never play the board game.
Comparison with Ticket to Ride: The main mechanic of drawing and collecting cards is clearly derived from Ticket to Ride. Every turn you’ll be drawing cards, and then occasionally using them to make a link to a new city. That gives the game a social and relaxed feel. What I like about this particular game is that it allows for more planning, because not only do you get to decide where you want to build your links; furthermore, but there’s also the additional element of delivering goods cubes. It would be a mistake to market this as a must-buy for Railways of the World board game fans, because some will be disappointed; on the other hand, Ticket to Ride fans might just be the ideal target audience for this. It has a familiar set-collection mechanic, but adds new and interesting elements without becoming overly complex. It doesn’t have the long-term objectives like the Ticket to Ride routes, so in that regard it feels like a different and much more open game, but it might appeal to a similar audience.
In his review, Todd Warnken suggests that RotW The Card Game is “70% Ticket to Ride and 30% Railways of the World.” Although that is perhaps overstating matters, I don’t think he’s too far off the mark. Designers James Eastham and Steve Ellis would probably be first to concede the strong influence of both games in their design, and yet they’ve reworked and combined some familiar mechanics into a package that feels fresh and original, and offers a game experience that’s both social and satisfying packed into a 45 minute time frame. To judge this as a heavy strategic card game would only result in unfair criticism. But when evaluated as a pleasant filler, Railways of the World The Card Game successfully offers a rewarding and satisfying experience, with gameplay that is relaxed, but still has enough substance to make it stand out from most fillers. It’s a medium-light train game, and I’d much rather play this than Ticket to Ride The Card Game! Certainly not a game that will appeal only to hardcore train gamers, I see this as a game that will find favour with families and other groups looking for a relatively light gaming experience that still offers some depth and decision making. The fact that it plays particularly well with two players is also a real bonus. Thumbs up!
What do others think?
Even though the game has only just been released a short time ago, it’s gone through extensive playtesting, and here are some of the positive comments from gamers who enjoy it:
“Lighter than the RotW board games, but still offering some interesting choices and the chance to mess with your opponents’ scoring opportunities.” – Rick Holzgrafe
“Draft cards like Ticket to Ride. Form the board with them like Dominoes. Deliver goods across the board like Age of Steam. Does this sound fun to you?” – Burke Glover
“Plays quickly and easily but forces the player to balance multiple ways to score points. It is this non-train-gamer’s new favorite train game.” – Jordan K
“Great for such a short game.” – Tom Hancock
“Don’t come expecting a full fledged Railways of the World exprience and you won’t be disappointed.” – Greg Williams
“A fun, dynamic game that shows excellent promise of multiple layers of strategy available upon further play.” – Darin Perrine
“It is easy to learn and plays in a short time. Because it is a card-draw game, lots of luck is involved; however, there are always enough options and strategic decisions to make it very interesting.” – Joan Foster
“Excellent fast game that combines Age of Steam cube delivery mechanisms with drawing elements from Ticket to Ride. Fast moving with enough strategy and card management to keep it fresh.” – Walt Mulder
Is Railways of the World: The Card Game for you? If you can handle some luck-of-the-draw and enjoy the social experience of games like Ticket to Ride, then this is definitely worth checking out! It’s a solid card game with a lot of potential, that uses cards in new and creative ways, and has enough decision making packed into a relatively short playing time. Recommended.