Review: Ticket to Ride's Asia Expansion Is Not Just More of the Same

Earlier this year, publisher Days of Wonder held a game design contest: create the next great Ticket to Ride map, and you could walk away with $10,000. Hundreds of submissions later, the results were so good that the company declared two winners.

The first of these winners, François Valentyne and his Legendary Asia map, have been paired up with original Ticket to Ride designer Alan R. Moon and his Team Asia map to create the first map pack for the popular franchise.

But how does a game such as Ticket to Ride continue to produce new versions while preserving the formula that garnered its original success? Read on for the full review to see how Ticker to Ride: Asia met this challenge or originality vs. faithfulness.

Just the Facts:

Players: 2-6

Playing Time: 45 minutes

Age: 8 to adult

Publisher: Days of Wonder

MSRP: $29.99

Release: November 2011

The Gameplay:

If you are not already familiar Ticket to Ride, I recommend you try out the game's $0.99 iPhone app (or if you don't own an iPhone, the web version). For those who have already played the base game, I'll summarize the major differences of each map.

Legendary Asia is a standard 2-5 player map that deals players three standard route and one long route destination ticket in similar fashion to Ticket to Ride: Europe. The new twist seen in Legendary Asia is the incorporation of mountain routes, shown on the map as spaces with an "X" symbol placed on them. In order to claim a mountain route, players must discard one train per X-marked space in that route. This cuts down on the player's train inventory, but also rewards them with two points per discarded train.

While Legendary Asia was traditional Ticket to Ride with a twist, Team Asia really turns the game on its head. Here, players will pair up, with each team sharing a pool of 45 trains. It's not that simple though, as information sharing is limited.

Partners are forbidden from speaking about in-game strategy with each other, and cannot reveal the destination tickets they have chosen unless they spend in-game actions to do so. As the game's start, each player can move one destination ticket to their team's pool of shared information, but in order to share others, they will have to skip a turn. Every skipped turn allows a player to reveal two more destination tickets to their partner.

Train cards work in a similar fashion. Every time a player chooses to draw train cards, they must choose to place the first one in either their private hand or a slate of shared cards. Regardless of what choice is made, the other option must be taken for the second card drawn. Train cards that are shared with your partner can also be used by them, though. This opens the potential for them to use hard-earned cards in a manner you don't agree with, which stresses the importance of revealing destination tickets to your partner (and allowing them to guess your ensuing strategy).

The Components:

  • Maps of Legendary Asia and Team Asia
  • Destination Tickets and Rules for each map
  • 6 Card holders
  • 9 Plastic trains in each of 5 colors

The components in this map pack are exactly what you would expect them to be: designed exactly within the bounds of previous Ticket to Ride games as to allow for a seamless transfer to the new maps. There's not much new to see here, but what is present has been produced to the same high standard as other Days of Wonder game that have been reviewed on this site.

The one new component is the set of six card holders, which are carved out of solid wood. As the only unique component of the bunch, these card holders earn Ticket to Ride: Asia some high marks.

Lastly, to clarify a difference between some versions of the game, this map pack's cards are of the larger playing card size used in Ticket to Ride: Europe and the1910 Expansion, not the miniature cards used in the original game.

Final Thoughts:

Alan Moon's Legendary Asia map is a joy to play. In this review's introduction I posed the challenge of balancing originality with faithfulness, and this map delivers right on target. It is very much still a game of Ticket to Ride, but the mountain passes force you to rethink every decision.

Getting two points per train is not a horrible fate, but it is one that will relegate you to the middle of the pack if you abuse the option. Frequent use of the mountain passes will also tack you out of the "Asian Explorer bonus" running, meaning you'd better have a plan to make up those points with high risk/high reward strategies elsewhere.

As for Team Asia, I'm still not sure how I feel about the  cooperation concept. The method of baking information sharing into the game's mechanics is novel, but the restrictions on table talk that allow it to work can stifle the social aspect of gaming. I tried out this map with both two and three-team setups, but during each play, my groups were left with awkward silences. Players were afraid to make any comments on the game, lest they be view as an attempt to illegally pass information.

We scrapped the table talk rule for a two-team match, but that just made the game designer's justification for the rule obvious. What is supposed to be a light and fast game was brought down to a crawling pace as teams broke off to strategize as if they were steering armies in Axis & Allies. The one redeeming factor for Team Asia is that is lets you squeeze in a sixth player for the first time (which also may be where some of the slow game criticisms are stemming from).

Whether these two maps are the definitive Ticket to Ride experience or not is inconsequential. The bottom line is that they have extended a formula that most gamers both know and love without just delivering more of the same. Some will love the maps, others will not, but the Ticket to Ride: Asia map pack is undeniably a steal at $30 when per-dollar value is compared to other major game expansions. I would not hesitate to recommend this product to any fan of the original game.

Disclaimer: MTV Geek received a complimentary review sample of this game