“Ticket to ride”, as you may already know, is the beloved family game from “Days of Wonder”, where you match colored train cards in your hand to claim the same colored routes on a board of interesting locals. Usually, players find themselves gleefully laying routes on several standard base games, one being the United States, and the other Europe.
At first I didn’t quite know what to make of “Ticket to Ride: Heart of Africa.”
(Buyer beware! This is only a Map expansion you have to use the colored cars (45 for each set) and the colored train cards from the European or American Sets. If you’re buying this expansion, you probably already own one of these other sets, but it didn’t hurt to check, “did it”. )
The first thing you would notice about this board is that the colors are grouped according to terrain. The lower left of the board is the savannahs and it has all of the brighter colors: red, orange, and yellow. The middle of the board is the jungle area: green, pink, and blue. There are very few named cities riddled down to the center column of the map, but there are plenty of stopping points to break up larger sections of the routes that extend across the continent. Finally, there are coastal regions from the southern edge of Madagascar (noted as two locations for this one destination on the map) to the northern reaches of the Sudan.
The map clearly creates several new problems for the seasoned players. One, depending on where your routes are located on the map you might never need a particular color of card to lay track. Thus with poor planning will waylay your hand, as it fills up like a busy train stop in Botswana with unusable cards for your ticket that you need to complete. The second problem which somewhat correlates with the first problem, is that players who like to blindly draw their hand with random draws from the train cards, with the goal to fill their hand with all usable colors, find that their hand is full of unusable colors. This strategy becomes a slow grind as you keep drawing cards that cannot be used effectively due to your current situation, and your hand begins to fill with colors of certain routes that you had no intention of traveling. Granted these cards can be played for points late in the game, but play is over-shadowed with despair as your blind draws render useless cards, fill your hand, and can quickly lead you to the quagmire of lost points for unfinished tickets.
Terrain cards are also added to the game to offer a player a chance to double their points while claiming any particular route. Each terrain card has to be matched to the color of the route they wish to build. Longer routes will need more than one terrain card. These terrain cards can be built up to bully players to match your strength in the number of cards, and can create a small race to score the only 30 point route play on the board.
Also, the games normally traditional “the longest continues route” bonus card is replaced with a card that grants the player with the most completed tickets and a ten-point bonus. This creates a more realistic bonus to attain because completing tickets on this map is so difficult to accomplish, thus, granting bonus points for something that people really have to work for in order to win the game. Drawing extra tickets can be deadly since most of the routes travel the entire board’s expanse and relies on completion of vital central locations.
The game quickly draws juxtaposition in the mind for normal players of “Ticket to ride”. People who play the game for social and family purposes might find the game too cut-throat of three players or more and may find the kids will come to tears as the only remaining connecting route is claimed. The inclusion of the steeple or train stations from the European set might be able to make this game a little more family-friendly, but expect some tempers to flair as routes in the central part of the map fill, and no easy, obvious, replaceable options show themselves, as you plan to trudge a circumnavigating route around the filled central geography of the board.
Players who usually find “Ticket to Ride” a little less challenging will find that this expansion sets a tone of the most thought-provoking, skilled-variant, tension laden to date of the whole “Ticket to Ride” franchise, and offering up a thrilling showstopper for the most picky of strategy players. Added tension is created, as players need to punch their way out of a problem from dense vegetation on the central locales on the map, with seemingly no end to their problems. Pressure mounts as you watch limited valuable routes disappear before you can find the right color of cards, realizing your route through central Congo has vanished and you’re left holding a handful of useless tickets.
It is heavy on competition and forces players to fight for the routes on the maps. The elements do a good job of adding to game play and not just some tokenism to make a new sale of a game expansion. The Terrain cards add a new level of play, but still keep the rule set light.
Those who play this game for social or family play, will soon find that three or more players is cut throat at its worst. It becomes a race to access vital sections of the board as they quickly become shut down. This may be too frustrating for younger players unless the addition of the train stations from the European set are added to alleviate the cut-throat nature of the board.
One slight issue I struggle with is “The Heart of Africa” light take on history. Clearly, this game is about the English Imperialist efforts to claim large vast mineral deposits of central Africa, and transport them to the ports on the coast. Whether these train systems ultimately help Africa’s people, will be determined by the history told by its people. Here the truth is not being fully addressed as you only see resolute English explorers, and gleeful Africans drawn on the board.
I found this to be one of the better maps to the series for strategy players and a worthwhile purchase to round out your “Ticket to Ride” map-set. Avoid this game if you have players who do not like conflict or plan to make some house rules to address tension that arises on the board. Otherwise, I whole heatedly encourage you to head out to the great expanse that is Africa, as this is probably one of the best expansions to date!
I would like to give a Big Thanks to our friendly neighborhood game store (where you should always go to buy your games!) “The Game Preserve” by helping us out with procuring the base game of “Ticket to Ride” Europe, so I could review this expansion.