Since winning the Spiel des Jahres in 2004, Ticket to Ride has had many iterations, and one of the more unique iterations was Ticket to Ride: Märklin. Märklin had several new rules, including a passenger system for bonus points, and a unique deck of train cards full of different Märklin train models. Now, Days of Wonder has rebranded the game as Ticket to Ride: Germany, simplifying the passenger system and ditching the Märklin tie-in. Is the final product worthy of the Ticket to Ride line? Let’s find out!
The game is primarily just pictures of trains and actual little plastic trains, and a map of Germany in the early 1900s. There are no characters, other than the cover, and the cutesty wooden meeple tokens. However, Ticket to Ride games can lend themselves to particularly mean moves, even sometimes unintentionally, so it could lead to frustration and anger for some players.
Let’s start with my general philosophy about Ticket to Ride. Alan Moon once told me in an interview that he feels like every new Ticket to Ride map needs a new mechanism, and I don’t care for that much. I’d be quite happy with just new locations and topography and tickets, but instead we have maps that often have more new rules than I’d like. My favorite map is probably still the original, but I also really enjoy maps with very simple but effective changes, such as India or Legendary Asia (neither designed by Moon himself), although sometimes the new rules can be very fun (Team Asia, Pennsylvania). So, I was definitely curious to see Germany‘s streamlined rules.
Mechanically, this might be the best Ticket to Ride map yet. What I like about new maps is when they force you to re-evaluate your tactics and strategies based on simple, subtle changes. The main mechanism here is the passenger meeples, which are placed in every city, and some big cities have several. When you place a route, you can take one meeple from each connected city, and majority in each color scores you 20 points (or 10 for second place). It’s possible to score 120 points from passengers alone! This mechanism is quite simple, but it greatly increases the value of short routes and getting on the board early, and increases the value of interrupting the plans of others, since you can grab passengers while you do it. It also makes short tickets more viable, which is where Germany‘s other twists come in.
The ticket deck is separated into long and short routes, and when you draw tickets, you draw four, and you can pick what combination you’d like. This added player control helps reduce luck in the game and helps players to commit to particular overarching strategies, with a very simple change. Additionally, there is a 15-point end-game bonus for most tickets completed, but none for longest route, further changing the valuation of pretty much everything, compared to the original USA map. To me, it seems like this map gives the highest gains in depth of gameplay and strategy for the least amount of rules/complexity cost, and that’s awesome. A friend pointed out that the passenger meeples are basically a super-streamlined version of the stocks in the Pennsylvania map, and he’s absolutely right.
My only complaints about the mechanisms are minor. The first is that the 7-length routes can be tough to get, and the original Märklin edition included special “+4 Locomotive” cards that could only be used on longer routes, but didn’t take the whole turn to grab. This is the same map but without those, making the long routes unreasonably difficult at times. The other issue is the triple routes on the left side of the board. Only one player can use these in three-player games, which seems sadistic. I could have sworn that past maps allowed two of the three to be used in three-player games. I may just house-rule that change in the future. These are not huge issues, though, and overall I really enjoy how this map changes things simply and effectively. Others might grasp that this is all a retreaded of a map that was more complex and interesting, but I vastly prefer this version over Märklin, both aesthetically and mechanically.
The argument could be made that this should have been a map-pack, but I like it just fine as a stand-alone. It offers the purple and white trains only found elsewhere in Nordic Countries, while having a full-size train card deck unlike USA. Beginner players could also easily remove the passenger meeples and play without them, while it’s hard to ignore the tunnels and ferries in Europe. Also, let’s be honest—Americans aren’t great at world geography, but in my own experience with having visited Germany twice and taken four years of the language in high school, this map didn’t give me issues in finding where things were, and I found myself interested in the locations on the map itself. If you don’t want to get the original base game or are just looking for a second standalone, I would actually venture to say that this is the best standalone box. If you already have a standalone box, I can see wanting to get a Map Pack with a double-sided board, but otherwise, this is one of the best Ticket to Ride releases out there, and I’m excited to play it again.
Thank you to Asmodee for providing a review copy of Ticket to Ride: Germany.
The Bottom Line
Ticket to Ride: Germany is the best base game box since the original, and a great alternative for people who want something just a bit more interesting than the USA map.