I'll assume that everyone reading this knows how Ticket to Ride works, and I'll also assume that many are aware of the controversy surrounding the game. People either love it or they hate it. The game gets rid of the board and instead the tickets have combinations of colors/symbols on them that you need to collect to turn them in. However, it's a little more difficult than that. First of all, you only score your tickets after the last card in the deck has been drawn. Second, you only use cards that are in your "On-The-Track" stack that you build up over the course of the draw deck being depleted. Third, those cards have to come from your "Railyard" in front of you that has very specific rules about what can be played to it and has the potential to have cards "Train Robbed" if someone plays a longer sequence of cards in a given suit.
As such, when it's your turn you first take the top card from each color in your Railyard (which may mean a locomotive) and put it face down in your On The Track stack. After that, you have three choices, just like TtR:board - draw cards from a drafting set (or blind), draw and keep/discard tickets, or play a set of the same color card (and any locos you wish) to your railyard. You can if you wish play three cards, each of a different color, to your railyard.
The root of TtR in any incarnation is the decision process between drawing one more card and getting that route on the map. Here, it's about whether or not you're going to put down three black cards only to have someone play four and have yours discarded. In fact, you can't put down more cards of a color you already have, and you can't put down cards in a color that's already in someone's Railyard unless you end up playing more. When to put those cards in your railyard is a huge part of the game.
With two or three people, you go through the deck once. We played with four and went through the deck twice, scoring at the end of each deck. There are also bonus points for having the most routes in/out of a given city (the terminii of each ticket are given on the card, and are tinted for relatively easy identification). To be honest, I wasn't even thinking about this when I looked for tickets, which was admittedly at the start of the game and again about halfway through.
Like TtR, what's available for drafting can really affect your game. I had drawn a bunch of cards using black trains, only to see Mike plop down five of the nine cards available as his first play of the second round. Which was funny, because a third of the way into the game I turned to Eric and said that I suspected that Locos were much more valuable in this game than in the other TtR titles, and I think that's correct. I ended up with three Locos covering my Black needs at the end of the game, with only a single black card making it into my On The Track stack.
Wes went with a "pick tickets with the same color sets" strategy, and it seemed that it worked for him. I don't know that this would be the case in future games - all it would take is for everyone but you to get one or two of those colors and you could be in serious trouble as it takes a *long* time to build up locos if you draw them as onesies. I'm sure I had some subconscious strategy, but I can't remember for the life of me what it was. It sure wasn't picking tickets by bonus cities (which strikes me as another good strategy).
It took us about an hour to 'splain and play, which is twice the box's estimate (although I think that was for the single deck game for two or three players). That's an excellent amount of time for a game like this, which has if anything a *higher* tension factor than even TtR: Maerklin and feels more like a gamer's game to me than anything else in the series. I found I was largely able to remember what I'd played into my stack as long as I had a ticket that synced up with it. Otherwise, they were out of sight, out of mind. Which was why I avoided drawing tickets other than just before the second round! In fact, I put down a stack of four red cards at the start of the second round even though I never had a single ticket with a red card needed.
In the end, Wes' strategy won handily, with something like 127 points to my 113. That may seem like a lot, but in fact it's about the average value of a ticket or bonus points. Had I tied for the New York points (I was one card short) I would have won the game.
Frankly, I loved it. I felt the luck factor was mitigated by several factors, chief among them being knowing when you should be playing those one-of-each-color three card sets so that others wouldn't stomp on them. If you are like me and think that luck is very real but overused as an excuse, you'll like this game because I really did feel that I had choices all the way through. The tension is great too, as you're always wondering if you should be pulling off a train robbery on your opponent, drawing those cards you really need, or deciding what tickets to keep and when to draw them. It's kinda strange because most card game versions of board games are stupified (Settlers Card Game excepted) versions of the original, and I didn't think this was a particularly good game for non-gamers while TtR (at least the original and Europe) is. Between the memorization and what always felt like tough calls for play it pretty much wiped me out, but in a good way. While I've yet to play with three, I can say that I loved it with four.
Next up was Zooloretto, which Wes had never played (nor had he played Coloretto), so Eric suggested we play Coloretto first so that the basic idea was established then teach the rest (mostly the money actions). I played quite poorly at Coloretto, which is a fun little game but with so little luck mitigation that it loses points as anything other than light family fare. Zooloretto, on the other hand, simply rocks. It builds on the basic concepts of Coloretto in a way that turns a game of chicken into a long-term set collecting strategy. I'm very interested in seeing Aquaretto, which I have heard is out. Clearly one I'll need to pick up in the future.
At some point, I'm hoping to get some of the expansion tiles into a Zooloretto game, and it may be something I take to Sunriver to play with my family. Along with TtR, of course, although I think this time I'll bring Europe.
Thanks to Mike for hosting, and it was nice to see some faces that I haven't seen around for a little while, especially Wes.