Monday, February 7, 2011

Getting Back to Our Roots (Days of Wonder's Ticket to Ride: Europe)

1/27/2011: Saturday night, and we had a fresh 'Dinner & Gaming Night' invitation from the friends that started my whole two year odyssey through the world of board games.  Yup, two years ago in October of 2008 we'd had a prior visit with our friends, and they'd served up one of their amazing meals, and introduced my wife and I to playing dominoes and Mille Bornes. I hadn't played much beyond the odd game of Risk or Monopoly in the prior fifteen to twenty years, when it came to board/table games. So the fact that our cool & respected friends put their seal of approval on the concept, made it ne plus ultra cool!

We'd had them over for a night of Dinner & Games of our own, a year or two ago (for a game of the Gloom card game; fun!). And made an attempt at another dinner & gaming gathering the eve before last Halloween. Sadly that outing had promise - I'd planned to take a run at Avalon Hill's reprint of Betrayal at House on the Hill -- but the 'game' portion of the evening went a bit off the rails, due to lack of interest from some of our guests. But the dessert & port portion went pretty well! :D 

So now, it's January of 2011, and I've gone from a handful of games to a sizable collection. So this go-round it was my turn to introduce them to some cool games. Tough niche to serve though: Although they routinely play & enjoy games, I believe they tend to be more in the card, dice or dominoes traditional social games niche. So I needed to bring a classic gateway game (or two or three). Games with simple rules, an hour or so of playtime, and fairly uncomplicated components and scale

They'd specifically asked about Betrayal: I'd described it to everyone last October as sort of a game of the 1963 Robert Wise version of the movie 'The Haunting'. But since that time I'd had a chance to play it with a group of regular gamers, and found that although it played quickly was fairly simple and not hard to grasp, it was probably not the best gateway game; the mid-game switch in play to the Hidden Traitor mechanic really could weird out folks new to board gaming.

So once again I went to the A-Number-One Go-To Gateway Game™: It's fast. It's simple. Most importantly it's fun & engaging. And most folks can get their head around the theme of 'Turn of the Century Railroad Expansion'.
-- OK, that may sound dry as toast, but ignore the theme, the game is actually fun, in spite of its apparently dry theme!
And bonus: It's even entertaining for regular gamers to play! :P

I'm talking of course about Alan R. Moon's Ticket to Ride. Or more-specifically the TTR:Europe version with the TTR:1912 expansion (visible at right).

As expected, we had an excellant meal, and then retired to their amazing third floor "entertainment complex" to get to gaming (I'd kill to have a game room like theirs :^D). To cover all bases, I'd brought the aforementioned TTR:Europe, Jeff Siadek's Lifeboat, and Matt Leacock's Forbidden Island. I broadly described the games, and the fast consensus was to try TTR.

I'll admit to a dumb initial mistake: Since I've gotten used to playing with other 'gamers' at our GameDay gatherings, I settled right in to starting to dryly read/quote the rules from the book, without actually getting the game underway. As a result I could viscerally feel the attention spans at the table contracting to a rapidly shrinking dot.:D So, we cut right to Plan B: Dispense with the Reading of the Rules, and just start drawing and playing  cards, explaining each step as it was undertaken. MUCH better choice!Within a time or two around the table, everyone was pretty well up to speed and underway.

Quick overview of TTR and it's mechanics:  The game board depicts a large map of railway lines in Europe, with each route segment between cities designated in one of five colors (WITH color-blind-friendly symbols!) . Two to five players play the game by attempting to draw cards and collect suitable sets of matching-colored cards, to line-up with and 'claim' route-segments on the board (which they mark by placing a row of little colored trains on the route). Points are pegged around the board's perimeter, as routes are claimed (one per car), with additional points given for completing separate 'Ticket' cards that grant points for successfully claiming specific routes on the board. Game play continues round the board until one player has placed all of their little train tokens on a route. Winner is the person with the highest number of pegged points.

Well, that's about the size of it. Variations in play between the original TTR and the various other flavors of the game largely come down to different geography on the map, and the addition of some rules and token variations. It's a nice, simple and fun game, that almost anyone can play.

As with any new game, it took a little while to get things up and running, but an hour or so later, we got positive comments from both of our hosts: "You know, this game is fun! I could play this again. Where do you buy this?"  Mission accomplished! :D

The late-evening wind-down was accomplished over a 25 or 30 minute game of a home rendition of Farkle. You know, for all of my experience divining rules, and figuring out arcane technical subjects at work, that game of Farkel had me guessing at scoring and rules, like an 8 year old trying to play Monopoly. :^D

All in all, I think we did well. I know we _ate_ well. And I think we may even try moving up the hierarchy a little, the next time around! :)

This makes for the third or fourth time I've pulled TTR out of my sock for introducing new-boardgame players to actual 'adult-caliber' games. And in every case, TTR has come through with flying colors. Ticket to Ride is definitely a game that should be sitting on most board gamer's shelves, specifically for these type of occasions. Heck, we've got two copies: A copy of TTR:Europe here at home, and a copy of the original TTR up at our cabin. :) 

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