All aboard!

Morning everybody!
Today’s game day blog is a little different, as I turn my spotlight of awesome onto one of the modern classics of tabletop gaming – up today is Ticket to Ride!

Ticket to Ride

Ticket to Ride is a stupendously successful game from Days of Wonder (it won the Spiel des Jahres in 2004), with really, really simple gameplay: you’re trying to claim railway routes in order to score points. Each turn, you can either draw cards, draw tickets with new routes to complete, or claim a route by playing a number of cards and placing some trains on the board. Each route is worth points, which you score as you place your trains, but your tickets are kept secret until the end – if you’ve completed specific end-to-end routes, you’ll score the points for them; if you haven’t, you have the points taken away. You can also score for having the longest single contiguous route.

While there is fairly high strategy involved in this game, where veterans can work out where everybody is trying to claim and aim to block you from completing those routes, I still feel like this game is something of a guilty pleasure for me, as it’s not the usual sort of game that I enjoy. I bought it when I was going through a phase of buying all the Spiel des Jahres winners, a phase that also saw me buy Dominion (and Tikal, Thurn und Taxis, and Alhambra). That said, I have almost every expansion for this game, neatly stacked in the corner of my spare room.

Ticket to Ride

However, I’ve only actually played the physical game twice!

Maybe it’s because I feel it’s such a guilty-pleasure game, or maybe it’s because I just have such bad luck convincing people to play with me, but this is one of these games that I specifically bought a tablet in order to play…

Ticket to Ride is available both for Android and iOS; being a google boy at heart, I have the former, though I believe the differences are minimal (please chime in if I’m wrong!)

ticket to ride app

The app is really quite beautifully done, with a clear and intuitive interface.

ticket to ride app

The app features pass-and-play, online play as well as solo play, though I’ve only made use of the latter. The solo player options are nicely scaled, so that if – like me – you only want to play two-player, the AI can be pretty devious and victory is never completely assured!

There is also a good selection of the expansions available, including Europe, Asia, and Switzerland, as well as the 1910 Big Cities card expansion – all available as in-app purchases. I often wonder why they haven’t made all of the maps available, which is a feeling common with a lot of digital versions of tabletop games (Carcassonne springs to mind!)

So yeah, the app is perfect for those times when you want to build some railways but nobody around wants to play with plastic trains – I’ve played it hundreds of times, and can’t recommend it enough! (And, in case you’re wondering, no bugs to report following the Lollipop update!)

It’s a really enjoyable game, and one that can usually be played with minimal stress. Why not jump aboard and see what all the fuss is about?!

The grandfather

Morning everybody!
Today I’m going to make good on something I’ve been talking about, it seems, since my blog began. I’ve been looking at a lot of my favourite games over the course of this blog, a fair few of which are deck-building games. Almost par for the course, one game has been mentioned in those blogs that I have yet to get to – but no more! For today, I’m going to throw the spotlight of awesome onto Dominion.

Dominion

This is the original deck-building game – the game that has spawned so many since:
Street Fighter
Marvel Legendary
Thunderstone
DC Deck Building Game
– Ascension
Dark Gothic
Arcana
Rune Age

The list goes on and on. All of these would not have been possible without Dominion, which first saw the light of day in 2008. The game is gloriously simple – you are trying to score Victory Points, which you get through buying cards. In order to buy these cards, you’ll have to buy other cards. From your starting hand, you have to build your deck to gain the cards you need from an available pool. When either three stacks of cards in this pool have been run down, or when the highest-scoring Victory Point card stack has run down, the game is over and the player with the most VPs wins. It’s very straightforward, but it can also be very strategic, and a whole lot of fun!

Dominion

Dominion

You start the game with a basic hand of seven Copper cards and three Estate cards, so the lowest score you will ever have is 3 VPs. The strategy comes from the Kingdom cards, which are the ones that allow you to do stuff to manipulate the basic flow of the game. On your turn, you can buy one card, you can play one action card, then you have to discard any unplayed cards and draw a new hand. Action cards can allow you to do other stuff, however:

Dominion

Being able to set up chains like the above is something that I love about this game:
– You use your action to play Festival, which gives you 2 more actions, as well as allowing you to buy up to 2 cards, and gives you an extra 2 gold to use;
– You play Market, which gives you another action as well as another buy and another gold, plus allows you to draw another card (3 gold/2 buys/2 actions left);
– You then play Village, giving you 2 more actions and drawing another card (3 gold/2 buys/3 actions left);
– You then play Smithy, to draw 3 more cards (3 gold/2 buys/2 actions left);
– You then play Woodcutter, which gives you one more buy and two more gold (5 gold/3 buys/1 action left);
– Your final action is to play Workshop, which allows you to immediately gain any card from the Kingdom costing up to 4 gold (5 gold/3 buys left).

Depending what gold cards you drew in your initial hand (with this sequence, you could potentially have four additional cards in your hand with this action chain resolved), you have a lot of options now!

Dominion

The other “strategy” that seems to be popular is the Big Money idea of buying up Gold cards as soon as you can, and trashing your Coppers. The idea being that you can then have a better chance of buying Province after Province and getting a high score that way. I put the quotes there, however, because this seems like an extremely boring way of playing – aside from missing out on the depth that comes from the various action cards, it just seems really meh. The other thing to remember, of course, is that the VP cards don’t do anything for you in-game, so if you go on a buying spree like this, you run the risk of clogging up your hand with cards that you can’t do anything with.

Dominion also includes player interaction, with certain action cards being attack cards. One of these, the Witch, gives your opponents Curse cards that are worth negative VPs at the end – having a Moat can help to ward off these attacks, however.

Dominion

Player interaction isn’t really what Dominion is about in the core set, however, as you’re trying to build your own domain rather than hindering others from building theirs. Later expansions do build on this, however, with more attack cards coming. And luckily, there is a whole slew of expansions for this game!

Dominion

I’ll be taking a look at these in another blog. I was originally intending to include them all here, but each expansion introduces new mechanics that, taken together, would create something of a monster blog. However, I will mention the next box in the set, Dominion: Intrigue.

Dominion Intrigue

This is basically a second core set for the game. While the expansions focus on adding new Kingdom cards, Intrigue does this but includes all of the money and VP cards you need to provide a self-contained game. As with pretty much all of the Dominion line, the experience is very much a ‘more of the same’, however there are some differences. Intrigue introduces hybrid cards that provide VPs as well as in-game effects, as well as focusing on cards that present the player with a choice in how they are used.

Dominion

The last box I’ll look at here is the replacement basic cards.

Dominion

This box includes new art for the base cards used in the game, some of which is really very nice, I have to say! The base cards included here take in those from the entire line, so we also have stuff from Prosperity and Alchemy.

Dominion

When I first came across this, I was a bit confused as I thought it could potentially undermine the need for the base game – getting this box and one of the expansions would allow you to play the complete game. However, it’s not really cost-effective to do that, as the core box is cheaper than two combined boxes. But anyway.

Dominion is a subtle and elegant little game, with a lot to enjoy about it. While I tend to vacillate in my enjoyment of it, as I sometimes find the collection of victory points a little less than stimulating, I nevertheless appreciate it for what it is. If you’ve never played a deck-building game before, you should definitely try it. Even if you’ve played one of the other games mentioned at the beginning of this blog, you should still take a look at the grandfather of them all!

Buy it from amazon:
Dominion
Dominion: Intrigue
Dominion: Base Cards

Carcassonne

Yay, it’s another post! If you read my tagline above, you’ll see that one of the things I love is board games, but before I start talking about that in any great depth, I thought you’d all love to know a bit about my very first experience with this world. See, the board game world that I enjoy so much isn’t the standard fayre of monopolys, clue(do)s, and whatnot. It’s more what I jokingly call “serious board games”, the sort that require a massive amount of capital to support, not to mention whole rooms given over to store them. That’s not to insinuate there’s any sort of snobbery going on – I enjoy a good murder mystery, or race to buy up London, as much as anyone – but rather I just enjoy games that have more immersion involved.

So anyway. The game that got me started in all this was, as it most likely was for a lot of other folks, Carcassonne. It’s a simple and elegantly beautiful game from the German designer Klaus-Jürgen Wrede, where you place tiles to essentially build the game board, scoring points as you complete features in the landscape that you have claimed using your meeple. When the last tile has been placed, the game ends, and the person with the most points wins. That’s pretty much all there is to it – no snobbery involved here! Rather than go through any complex rule explanations with pictures or whatnot, I thought I’d let Wil Wheaton show you, in his awesome TableTop webshow:

Pretty awesome, I know!

Carcassonne got me insta-hooked on tabletop gaming, and since then I’ve been sinking untold thousands of pounds into the hobby. It’s something I enjoy, so what the hell, right? But why Carcassonne? What was so special about that game that tipped me over the edge? Well, I don’t know. Highly unsatisfactory answer, I know, but still – I don’t! It’s a really elegant game, with perhaps the perfect balance of strategy for me to enjoy it right out of the box. If you watched the whole video (and if you didn’t, shame on you!), you may have picked up on how easy it is to either play confrontationally, messing up other peoples’ plans and muscling in on their farms or cities, or equally you can just have your own little corner that you can make your own, and hope you have more features at the end. I’m sometimes a lazy gamer, and I don’t want to have to sit through half an hour of strife and torment while I try to continually adapt my plans for victory, sometimes I just want to put some tiles down and score some points, y’know?

Carcassonne

There are a lot of expansions for Carcassonne, which adds greatly to the depth of the game without really being all that complex (I think). I think we’re currently looking at the ninth “big box” expansion coming out this year, but there are also a whole host of smaller boxes, right down to single-tile expansions. Unfortunately, I don’t have all of them (to my lasting shame!), but I have a damn good selection, let me tell you!

Carcassonne

If I had to pick my absolute favourite, I’d probably say it was Inns and Cathedrals. It was the first large expansion for the game, and basically added more tiles, including tiles with inns and with cathedrals on. Genius, right?! To add to the main game shown above, the inns appear on road tiles, and their presence on said road makes it worth two points per tile when completed (though still one point at the end of the game). Cathedrals are full-tile city tiles, and when said city is completed it makes each tile worth three points – however, at game end, if the city was incomplete, it scores you nothing! The potential for adding cathedrals to an opponent’s incomplete city near the endgame is always sooooooooo tempting! Muwahahahaha! (I’m not actually a jerk like that – I like to think I’m a really considerate gamer, anyway!).

Carcassonne Inns and Cathedrals

The smaller expansions all add something, well, small to the game – my favourite is the Cult, six tiles which work similarly to the monasteries, though if you get a cult piece and a monastery together it becomes a fight to see who completes the feature first! Whoever loses gets no points for their own feature.

Carcassonne Cult

A lot of the Carcassonne mini expansions have been made available through Spielbox magazine, which is a German game magazine that does a lot to promote tabletop gaming. Published in German, with an English-language version also available, it’s definitely worth checking out!

Carcassonne Cathedrals of Germany
Carcassonne latest addition, the Cathedrals of Germany!

As well as expansions, there are ‘re-imaginings’ of the game released, the first being Hunters & Gatherers, a Stone Age version; Discovery; Winter Edition, and most recently, South Seas. All of these use the basic mechanics but with subtle twists. I’ve only played Discovery and Winter Edition, which are both as much fun as the regular game, though without the same level of expansion (all except Discovery have had some form of expansion to them).

Carcassonne Discovery
Carcassonne Discovery

Carcassonne Winter Edition

Carcassonne Winter Edition

Carcassonne South Seas
Carcassonne South Seas

Which leads me on to another point. I’ve played Carcassonne a whole load of times, in large groups and one-on-one. It’s an experience that is always changing, and always fun, and the level of expansion incorporation can make things as easy or as complex as you like. Personally, I enjoy at least a couple of expansions being involved. There are two small expansions of River tiles (River and River II) which have become practically ubiquitous to the main game, but in addition to these I would usually involve at least Inns & Cathedrals, Traders & Builders, the Cult pieces and the King expansion. There’s just enough going on with these that I feel the game is in a constant flux until the end. (I also have the ‘mini expansion’ of twelve tiles published in Games Quarterly magazine mixed in with the base game tiles, and while usually expansion tiles have a watermark telling you which set they came from, this one doesn’t, so I can’t split it off. Just thought you ought to know). Playing with all the expansions can be a bad idea, as there is so much going on – not to mention, so many tiles – that it can slow the game down. I’ve done it once, and covered the dining table with the game.

Carcassonne River II

In case you’re interested, the Guinness World Record for the longest boardgame play was for a game of Carcassonne in Germany in 2006, which lasted nearly 43 hours and used nearly 4200 tiles. The winning score was 4703 points! Sheesh!

Carcassonne was the game that got me into this delightful mess, and it’s always fun to get it out every once in a while.

As always, I’d love to hear what other people think of Carcassonne – including favourite expansions! Drop me a comment!

Carcassonne Count of Carcassonne
The Count of Carcassonne expansion brought the actual citadel of Carcassonne itself to the game!