Board game Top 10: Roll and write games

Welcome to my Top 10 roll and write games. These do exactly what they say on the tin: roll some dice, then write down the result. They were popularised in the 1960s with the massive success of Yahtzee. But like the rest of the hobby, kind of stuck in gear for the next 40 years.

The mid 2000s saw the mechanism reintroduced to hobby gamers with the likes of Catan Dice, Roll Through the Ages and Dice Bingo. But they were really put back on the map in 2013 when Qwixx received a Spiel de Jahres nomination. And there has been a steady (and pretty overwhelming) stream of them released ever since.

Most commonly, roll and write games tend to slot into the ‘filler’ category. The games tend to be fast, cater for a higher than normal variability of player numbers, and have simple rules. Plus they’re usually quick to set up and come in small boxes. Making them perfect to pop in your bag if there might be a gaming opportunity almost anywhere.

What the flip?

I’m also including ‘flip and writes’ here. They basically use the same core idea as a roll and write, but uses cards instead of dice. This can be used to decrease/control the randomness. But also to increase the amount of options available for the designer. The first was probably Traxx (2015), and right now they’re still quite thin on the ground. But it’s a great concept and there have already been a few big hits – especially Welcome To. So expect lot more to hit the shelves in the next few years.

For links to digital versions of some of these games, scroll to the bottom of the page. The only ones I couldn’t find were Traxx and Dizzle – so let me know if you know of versions and I can add links. Thanks!

Note: Both Welcome to and Cartographers list themselves having a player count of 1-100. This is technically true, as they come with 100 sheets in the box (which you could laminate for replayability). But that’s true of many of these games – so I’ve left the gimmick out.

That's Pretty Clever dice, one of my top 10 roll and write games

Top 10 Roll and write games

10. Traxx
(1-4 players, 15-30 mins, 2015)

Players draw a path on their board, a 60-ish space hex grid. Each board is the same except the start point. They are made up of six different colours, with nine spaces also containing a number. In each of 15 rounds a card is flipped containing 4-5 colours. Players draw a line through as many of the colours as they can. But all lines must extend from one end their initial one. Numbers you pass through score points. But all uncovered spaces lose a point. And that’s it. Simple, but surprisingly replayable. And you can teach it to anyone.

9. Roll Through the Ages
(1-4 players, 30-60 mins, 2008)

This is at the heavier end of the roll-and-write spectrum. As well as the standard score sheet and dice you get nice wooden peg boards for each player. You use this to track various resources used to build developments and cities, create monuments, and feed cities. While largely just a resource conversion game, its variety comes in the developments. There are 13 in total, letting players diverge in their strategies. But the dice mean it is very much a tactical game too. Despite the name, it share nothing but theme with Through the Ages. Players take it in turns to roll dice, making the game a lot longer than many here.

8. Qwixx
(2-5 players, 15-30 mins, 2012)

Qwixx is perhaps even simpler than Traxx. Each player has a sheet with numbers 2-12 in yellow and red, and 12-2 in blue and green. You mark off as many numbers as possible – but can only mark them left to right. One player rolls 6 dice (1 of each colour plus 2 whit dice), and each player marks off the sum of the two white on any line they choose. But the player who roles can add one white die to any of the coloured dice, marking off the total in that colour instead. Mark as many numbers in each row to score points. A fun, light, filler game.

7. Steamrollers
(1-5 players, 30-45 mins, 2015)

Steamrollers sees players drawing lines on their sheets to connect cities, after which they can deliver goods (cubes) along those lines. The twist is that a central board has the actual cubes on. So you’re competing to deliver those cubes before your opponents. Some special abilities that can move between players add extra interaction, making this a game where you really have to keep an eye on your fellow players.

6. Utopia Engine
(solo, 30-60 mins, 2010)

While many of these games can be played alone, this is one specifically for solo game fans. And better still it is a free ‘print and play’ game, available here. It has a similar feel to games such as Roll Through the Ages and Nemo’s War, where dice are used to mark off sections of your sheet relating to special abilities or objectives. So if that sounds like its up your street, you really have no reason not to check it out!

Top 10 Roll and write games: The Top 5

5. Reina Knizia’s Decathlon
(1-4 players, 45 mins, 2003)

Decathlon is another free download (available here). But that’s not why it’s so high on my list. Where many modern roll-and-writes take the games in new directions, this keeps that old Yahtzee style ‘push your luck’ vibe and applies it to a bunch of simple dice games. But they do manage to give the feel of the various events of an athletics decathlon. Check out my full review of Decathlon here.

4. Cartographers
(1-6 players, 30-45 mins, 2019)

As you may have guessed, this flip-and-write sees each player creating a map on their sheet. Cards reveal polyomino-style shapes you can add to your sheet, as you try to match your map to various scoring cards. But a nice twist sees bandits popping up, where you swap sheets so your opponents can make your life more difficult. There’s nothing ground-breaking here, but it’s somehow a very satisfying experience.

3. Dizzle
(1-4 players, 30 mins, 2019)

Dizzle ticks so many boxes (no pun intended). You mark off spaces on your sheet to score points. It’s simple, has interaction and push-your-luck, plus you’re invested in every moment. And it has four different sheets in the box to add replayability – with four more available as an expansion. The interaction comes from a shared pool of dice. After the initial roll, you take one each clockwise. But if you don’t like them, you can reroll – at the risk of losing one you’ve already placed. For more details, check out my full Dizzle review.

2. Welcome To
(1-6 players, 30-45 mins, 2018)

Another flip-and-write, this time planning out a new town’s houses in 1950s America. The art is a real selling point, but the game is smart too. The cards are numbered, and players try to give each house a street number from left to right on their boards. But each number is paired with a random ability, making the decisions on which number to take much more difficult. Add in shared scoring objectives and you have a great game. Check out my full Welcome To review here. It also has various expansions available, adding little extra rules.

1. That’s Pretty Clever
(1-4 players, 30 mins, 2018)

This is seen a gamer’s roll and write, as it has a little more going on. But unlike games such as Roll Through the Ages, it still keeps the standard abstract feel of the genre. Five of the dice colours match sections of your sheet, but each of those areas scores differently. So often need different numbers at different times to be useful. But areas also interact with each other, triggering opportunities elsewhere. It really is pretty clever. Check out my reviews of both That’s Pretty Clever and its more complex sequel Twice as Clever.

Sheets from That's Pretty Clever, number one in my top 10 roll and write games

Play some of my Top 10 Roll and write games online

Check out some of these games for free, online, at the websites listed below:

Qwixx and That’s Pretty Clever (as ‘Ganz Schon Clever’) have official apps on both the Apple Store and Google Play. That’s Pretty Clever is also available on Steam.

I hope you enjoyed my Top 10 roll and write games. If you think I missed anything crucial, please do let me know on social media or in the comments below. I’m always looking for new games to try! And if you enjoy this type of post, click here for loads more of my board game top 10s.

Tales of Glory board game: A four-sided review

The Tales of Glory board game box artwork.

The Tales of Glory board game is a fantasy themed tile-layer for 2-5 players, lasting up to an hour. The box says for ages 10+, but gamer kids a little younger could probably get to grips with it. There is only a small amount of hidden information, so discussing options is easy during play.

The game was released with a whiff, rather than a bang, in 2018. The initial run was dogged with production issues and the publisher didn’t exactly cover itself in glory sorting them out.

This is a shame, as Tales of Glory is a slick and fun little family game. And while not overly thematic, the fantasy idea works to gel the mechanisms together. You’re essentially piecing together your character’s adventuring legend: the places they’d been, the battles they fought, and the prizes and powers they achieved. But basically, it is an abstract puzzle.

And those production problems are very much behind them. The iconography is simple and clear and the cartoony artwork first class. Which is what you’d expect from Small World/Seven Wonders artist Miguel Coimbra. In the box you’ll find a small tile board, 76 cardboard tiles, 40 cards and well over 200 cardboard chits. The quality is excellent throughout. For what you get the box is slightly oversized, but it has a good insert – and at around £30 it is good value for money.

Teaching the Tales of Glory board game

The game lasts 10 rounds, with players claiming then placing a tile in each. Each player starts with a different character (start) tile, which also gives them some starting resources. Everyone gets some money (used to buy certain tiles – usually characters and places). And you may also get some initial combat and magic tokens, which represent your prowess in the adventuring arts. These are mostly needed to ‘pay’ for creature tiles; but unlike money, they’re not spent. Think of them as you gaining combat experience. And you’ll get some potions – used to make up the difference if you don’t have the skills you need.

Each round, a number of tiles are placed onto the adventure board. Players have a deck of cards equal to the number of spaces on that board (six or eight, depending on player count). Simultaneously, players choose which tile they want (each space is numbered) and put the matching card face down on the table. Then everyone flips their card and (in player order) takes their tile. If two or more players pick the same tile, it’s first come first served on player order. Anyone missing out gets their pick of what’s left after all first choices have been taken. So no one misses out – and there are always plenty of tiles to choose from.

Telling your tale of glory

All tiles have a ‘right’ way up, and must be placed as such in your tableau. Each also does or doesn’t have a connector; and again, like must meet like. Some connectors also have half a key on them. Get keys on both sides, and you’ll be able to open a chest on one of the two tiles (these contain various bonuses). And connectors may also have rewards directly printed on them; sometimes automatic, while others may need you to connect to a specific type of tile (monster, treasure etc). In addition, the tile itself will usually give you some sort of benefit. Generally, characters give skills; monsters and treasures stuff; and places give benefits when you link them to other tiles.

Each player also starts with a couple of bonus tiles. If you meet the placement criteria, these can be added as extras on any of your turns. And, of course, many tiles also give you points. Some are immediate, while others will accumulate (score X points for each X tile you have in your tableau etc – you know the drill). Finally, there are four ‘majorities’ trophies players compete for: combat, magic, potions and coins. Whoever has the most in each category takes the token at the end of the game (all who are equal first get the same points). And yup – highest score wins.

The four sides

These are me, plus three fictitious players drawn from observing my friends and their respective quirks and play styles.

  • The writer: Some games just have an X-factor that defies description. The Tales of Glory board game doesn’t bring anything new to the party. But is incredibly slick, from the rules to the production. It’s quite simply satisfying. No, it never rises above that. But still manages to be a joy to play. You always feel like you can do something, and that something will be cool. But at the same time, you want to do more. By the end you look at your little tableau and see towns, creatures you defeated, and friends you got along the way. And loot, of course. Lots of loot. It just presses all my nerdy buttons. And I make no apologies for that.
  • The thinker: There is some little strategy here, and some thought goes into taking and placing the right tiles. But this is not a game that will win awards for depth. However, it is a perfectly pleasant experience and at 30 minutes for two players (once you have it down), and very little setup, it fits nicely into the ‘enjoyable filler’ category. Especially as the different strategies seem well balanced.
  • The trasher: With five players, I enjoyed Tales of Glory. Battling for turn order becomes important and you genuinely worry about getting the right tile. Trying to go for a different route to your opponents then has real merit, and sometimes denial is a solid tactic (as no tile is intrinsically bad). But at lower counts, it loses that tension. With two or four players, even if you don’t get the tile you want, you get to pick from five others. So there’s almost always something pretty reasonable. This takes a key tension away for me, so I only really enjoy it with the maximum player count.
  • The dabbler: Great game! The cartoony art is super cute, and it plays fast and fun. There’s a nice feeling of trying to work out what other people want. And placing your tiles to get clever combos is a nice little challenge. This can be a little frustrating at first, but after a few plays you get the hang of it. And it becomes really satisfying when the right tile comes up just at the right moment. It’s not thematic, but if you use your imagination it does tell a story. So for me it is a definite winner.

Key observations

Tales of Glory has two potential issues for me: fragility and longevity. The fragility is evident in the sheer number of tiles that need to be available in each round. There is an enviably large number of routes to take for such a small, light game. But for that to work, you need a lot of choice. Which unfortunately takes the tension out of the clever yet simple auction/draft mechanism. I still really enjoy it, but a few less choices would’ve really ramped this up. I guess the designers thought the game was more in making a cool tableau, than in the fight for tiles. That’s fair enough – but I think they maybe skewed slightly too much the other way.

Which bring us to longevity. Sacrificing tension for variety may hurt the game. Tension keeps players coming back, over and over. I’m thinking of games such as Coloretto, 6 Nimmt, or No Thanks. I think they had the chance to make that kind of impact here. But instead, we got a few more ways to score points. That’s fun, don’t get me wrong. And I’m still really enjoying it after five plays. But I’ve kept those plays spread out. And wonder, without expansions (which don’t seem forthcoming), if this would survive the closer scrutiny of regular plays. Because the different ways to score points aren’t that different.

Finally, it’s always risky putting a fantasy theme on a clearly abstract puzzle game. I don’t mind at all, but there is the danger of people picking it up expecting one thing and getting something else. I don’t see this as a valid criticism, at all. But it is going to happen if you put a dwarf with a sword and a dragon on the box – then give people a tile laying brain teaser.

Conclusion: Tales of Glory board game

Despite a few worries about how long the relationship will last, right now I love Tales of Glory. The gorgeous cartoon art and simply, puzzley play have won me over. And the game is also the perfect length (including simple set up) for what it offers. If you enjoy light drafting and tile laying games, I would urge you to check this one out. And if you like a bog standard fantasy them pasted on op, even more so. It found its way into my last annual Top 40. And I can see it staying there for some time.

Gods Love Dinosaurs board game: A four-sided review

Gods Love Dinosaurs board game box

The Gods Love Dinosaurs board game is a family board game that is suitable for 2-5 players and takes around an hour to play. The box says for ages 10+. But I’d say eight-year-old gamers, maybe even younger, will have no problems.

You should largely ignore the title and prominence of the ‘D’ word on the box, monster fans. Because this is an abstract game about ecosystems, not dinosaurs. You’ll be laying tiles into your own tableau, then populating them with creatures (mainly rabbits, frogs and rats). Then occasionally you’ll let the few predators you’ve collected (eagles, tigers and the odd dinosaur) have a bit of a munch on them. Someone clearly did their marketing homework.

But it does have some pretty nice T-rex bits in the box, as part of a set of 200 wooden creature meeples. The prey ones in particular are pretty small, but they work well enough on the table. You’ll also find a small board, almost 100 tiles and a little volcano standee. The artwork is abstractly cartoony and is colourful without getting in the way. While the limited iconography is clear throughout. At around £40 it feels just about reasonable. But if I’d had to have a stab in the dark, I’d have guessed a price point nearer £30.

Teaching the Gods Love Dinosaurs board game

There are a few concepts in Gods Love Dinosaurs that may be new to family gamers. And it would be easy to play badly and end up with very few points. But there is no hidden information. And what you’re doing makes thematic sense. So it will be easy for a half-decent teacher to walk everyone through the first game. After that, it should be plain sailing.

You start the game with a circular seven-space tile containing one of each ‘prey’ (rabbit, frog and rat), plus a dinosaur in the middle. In play, you take it in turns taking a tile from the animal board and expanding your tableau. They don’t need to match up in any particular way, but matching terrain types makes sense. Most of these hexagonal dominoes tiles have an animal on one of their two spaces. When you take one, you place an animal of that type on the allocated space.

The animal board has five columns (with two/three tiles in each, depending on player count). When a column is empty, the animal pictured at the bottom of that column activates for all players. If it’s a ‘prey’, that specific animal type multiples. For each you have, you can add one extra on an adjacent space – as long it is the right terrain type. If it is a ‘predator’, move each you have up to their movement limit. For each prey they eat along the way, you get a new predator of that type. And the viscous circle of life goes on.

Do the dinosaur

In addition to animal activation, a dinosaur starts the game occupying the left-hand column on the animal board. If that column is activated, players’ dinosaurs also activate after the animal. They eat any prey they move through (but you gain nothing). But if they eat any predators, you gain a dinosaur egg.

Dinosaurs must also stop on special mountain spaces. And if you’ve freed up that central space on your start tile, you can spawn a new dinosaur at the start of this dinosaur phase. More dinos equal more eggs – and dinos/eggs are worth a point each. As that’s the only points there are, it’s pretty important. But on the flip side, anything that can’t feed dies. so if you put too many dinos out and don’t get your animals going, they’ll starve and die. Aww.

After dinosaurs activate, the board is refilled with tiles and the dinosaur moves to the next column. There are four stacks of tiles (presumably to keep an even-ish distribution of animal types throughout the game). And when you can’t refill the board, the game is over.

An image of an eagle set to its its prey in the Gods Love Dinosaurs board game

The four sides

These are me, plus three fictitious players drawn from observing my friends and their respective quirks and play styles.

  • The writer: I love the idea behind Gods Love Dinosaurs and looked forward to it. And the game is well produced. But beyond the artwork it lacks personality. Because unfortunately it’s a theme that demands a level of interesting gameplay this rather linear abstract fails to deliver. Everything works. With each tab fitting sleekly into its slot. But there is no game arc and no variety, leaving little of interest for a gamer over multiple plays.
  • The kids: We love dinosaurs! And the pieces are cool. It’s fun to make new rabbits and rats and then have the tigers and dinosaurs and that eat them up. But you must be careful where you place the tiles and have enough creatures so that everything can eat otherwise some of your animals may die. It is a hard game and there is a lot to think about. But it is really good fun and I want to play it more and beat dad.
  • The trasher: The Gods Love Dinosaurs board game is purely tactical. Because there is only one strategy (collect eggs and dinosaurs). In a two-player game, this makes things nip-and tuck. You have some level of control, so can create shortages and trigger animals when it is of little use to your opponent. But with more players control is lost and it can become of a bit of a luck fest. More about making the most of what’s available than anything else. But even with two, games tend to get rather samey and predictable. OK, but not really for me.
  • The parents: This is a pretty good family game. We could easily teach it to the kids, but it also offers us a bit of a challenge. Sadly it isn’t very educational, except for a very basic demonstration of how an animal ecosystem works. You’d think they could’ve put a bit more in the box in that respect. And it isn’t a game we’ll reach for if the kids don’t request it. We enjoyed the first few plays, but the decisions aren’t really interesting enough to keep us interested if its just the two of us. But it’s certainly one of the better options on the kids’ shelf!

Key observations

Adding dinosaurs to the game, and then pushing them in the title, may well have been a mistake. Because it adds an expectation that the finished product in no way meets. It’s a pretty clever and workable abstract design, but not an exciting aggressive one. This is a game of clever tile placement and resource management. Some find that fun, but it’s not ‘FUN!’ fun. This is particularly frustrating as there are so many ways they could’ve injected some personality into the mix. But they chose to use none of them.

The lack of game arc is particularly galling. I’d hoped the ‘A-D’ tile sets may have injected this, but instead they’re only there to enforce the status quo. So every player is always getting prey, then predators, then feeding to then dinosaurs for points. This means the real game is in starving players of options by taking the right tiles at the right time. But behind that the multiply, eat, repeat engine just chugs along relentlessly in the background.

Even some of the positive (8+) reviews say the game has a single strategy and may become repetitive. But this is in part what can make it a great family game. While the tile draw brings a bit of luck, largely it’s a game of meaningful decisions in terms of tile placement. This means parents will be engaged. But the kids don’t have any extra levels to get to – meaning they’ll be catching up their parents first in terms of ability. They’re going to enjoy eating the animals too. So it can really work well in this environment.

One final issue we had was around the scoring system. There are precious few points and play is pretty linear. Which meant all our games were close. In fact, several were draws. This points to a game that is too well balanced, which may well explain a lot of the criticisms above. Also, the tiebreaker gives the win to the player who went latest in turn order – which just seems pointless and irrelevant.

Conclusion: Gods Love Dinosaurs board game

Ultimately, for me as a gamer, Gods Love Dinosaurs was a disappointment. As we started playing it felt like a good mix. I love a good tile-layer and the (actual – not dinosaur) theme worked. The first game was fun, learning what we’d done wrong and looking forward it fixing it. And fix it we did, in game two. By the end of which the cracks were beginning to show. Game three was actually pretty boring – which is when we reached out to get the family vote. Luckily, kids dig it so the game will go to a good home. Which is great news.

But I don’t buy I’m not the target audience. I love a good family game. I’ve got over 150 plays of Ticket to Ride under my belt. Fifty-plus of Carcassonne. And there are plenty more light games on my shelves. Those family games offer a little extra something. Whether it be variety, or extra levels you can reach with repeat plays. Or, with the best examples, both. Of course, those games benefit from years of expansions. And the Gods Love Dinosaurs board game has so many ways it could be expanded. But for me, at least one of those should’ve been explored in the box. Because as it is, it’s lacking that crucial spark.

Essen 2020 game reviews: Red Cathedral, Calico, Winter Kingdom & Welcome to New Las Vegas

Hundreds of games were released for Spiel Digital, despite the fact Germany’s premier board game event didn’t physically happen. You can find all my Essen 2020 game reviews listed here (with more to be added in the coming months).

Below are four games that, after playing them once, didn’t make the full review cut. None of them are bad games and I’d happily play them again. But for various reasons, I won’t be following up my initial interest. There’s only so much time I can dedicate to reviewing (sadly), especially in lockdown. But I hope these mini reviews will be helpful.

Speaking of lockdown – these can all be played online. Calico, Red Cathedral and Winter Kingdom are all available to play for free on Tabletopia, a free online board game platform. The site has the rules for the games too, but there’s no scripting – so you have to learn the games properly and move all the pieces etc (you can’t just wing it). Welcome to New Las Vegas is available free on Board Game Arena (as is its predecessor Welcome To).

And finally, a shout out to Alex who patiently taught me all four games online. Ta!

Red Cathedral

(1-4 players, 60-90 mins, ages 10+, Devir)

This light-ish euro game has a lot of buzz. Its main mechanism is a dice-driven rondel, which is a big tick on the plus side for me. So I was really looking forward to trying it. Red Cathedral plays very smoothly. You move dice around the rondel to gather resources and trigger abilities. While claiming and completing parts of the cathedral to score points. Scoring is a mixture of completion points and majorities, making keeping an eye on your opponents important. And you can personalise your own tableau by taking then triggering bonuses.

Everything about Red Cathedral is right up my street. So why didn’t I fall in love with it? Basically, it felt like an uninspiring rehash of mechanisms I’ve played before. While nothing was wrong, nothing stood out. It had none of the invention of, say, Bruxelles 1893. While I can see it feeling very samey very quickly. In honesty, after enjoying the first 10 minutes of play, I was bored by the end. Certainly not a bad game and I can see some players falling for it – especially if they haven’t played X-hundred similar games beforehand. But not me. BGG rating 8: My rating 6.

Essen 2020 game reviews: Calico

(1-4 players, 45-60 mins, ages 10+, AEG)

When I first saw this, the ‘cute cats on a quilt’ theme put me right off. I love cats. And quilts, I guess? But this just looked cynical. But I was told it was an interesting abstract worth checking out, with masses of buzz, so I gave it a second look.

Each player makes a quilt (read: player tableau) with different coloured patches (hexes). For some reason, certain cats (read: points) like certain combinations of these colours so you want to put them together. I’ve lost you, haven’t I…?

The theme is complete nonsense, being even more cynical than I’d initially thought. This has the knock-on of making the components a gaudy mess that for me hindered game play. I found working out what I was doing headache inducing. Which was a shame, as the game play – if unremarkable – is OK. But unlike more interesting recent pattern matching games, it has practically no interaction. And luck of the draw can have a massive impact. Your board will fill by the end of play and whether the right tiles come up for you near the end will probably decide the winner. So despite cute cat art, it’s average at best. BGG 8: me 5.

Welcome to: New Las Vegas

(1-9 players, 45 mins, ages 10+, Blue Cocker Games)

I’m a fan of Welcome To, the flip-and-write game that seems each player drawing out their town plan to trigger bonuses and score points. I like the fact cards give that extra element of certainty in the math. Which works in a game such as this, which has a little more complexity than your average roll-and-write.

Welcome To: New Las Vegas has the same basic workings (flip three cards, choose two to make a pair, then mark some things off your sheet). But like Twice as Clever to That’s Pretty Clever, it takes things up a gaming complexity notch. Which obviously begs the question – is a more complex version of Welcome To something you needed in your life?

This version plays well and feels like a similar experience. But the way it raises the bar makes it a very different challenge. It feels as if there’s a bit more mitigation available. But then the stakes are often higher. And it also feels as if there are more clearly defined paths you can follow. Which should help replayability, without having to reach for expansion packs. I enjoyed my play, but it really made my head hurt. I have games for that – and Welcome To isn’t one of them. I play the original every few months and am happy with it. So don’t feel I need this new brain-burning version. But if you do, I highly recommend taking a look.

Essen 2020 game reviews: Winter Kingdom

(2-4 players, 45-60 minutes, ages 8+, Queen Games)

At the risk of repeating myself… I’m a fan of Kingdom Builder, which Winter Kingdom has the same basic workings as. You draw a card on your turn, which tells you which terrain you can place your buildings on. The modular board offers lots of replayability. While randomly drawn scoring goals add even more.

The original game proved strangely divisive, with some people taking against it in an oddly vehement fashion. I really like it, but understand why others might not. But hate it? I never got that. Anyway, this new version seems to have taken some of the big criticisms to heart and addressed them. Which seems a little pointless to the likes of me, who thought those criticisms were baloney.

Each map board now contains a portal, which you can step through to get to other areas/terrain types across the board. This ‘fixes’ the issue of bad players placing poorly and getting stuck in a losing position early in the game – while adding massive potential for AP. The alternative fix is, of course, to play better. It also adds unique powers you can buy and use (which seemed OK) to replace having to earn them from map placement. Again, this just felt as if it took a challenge away. Seemingly to balance the fact this is Kingdom Builder with stabilisers, they added cards that give an annoying thing you can’t do in that particular play. As you may have guessed by now, I’ll be sticking with the rather brilliant original game.

Ticket to Ride Japan & Italy: Map collection 7 expansion review

Ticket to Ride is one of the leading family games in the hobby, having sold millions of copies worldwide. It was released in 2004 and reviewed by me in 2014.

The original features a game board map of North America. The rules cleverly combine a few simple, well known concepts. You’re largely collecting sets of coloured cards to claim routes on the map. But the routes each player needs to complete are hidden. So you soon start getting in each other’s way, accidentally or otherwise.

Since its release, publisher Days of Wonder and designer Alan Moon have supported the game with regular map expansions. Each adds a twist or two to the original rules, keeping the game play fresh for regular players. Since 2011 these map expansions have had double-sided maps, with Ticket to Ride Japan & Italy being the latest (seventh) offering. All the expansions need pieces from the original game (or the other standalone title, Ticket to Ride: Europe) to play.

What does Ticket to Ride Japan & Italy bring to the party?

In the box you’ll find a massive double-sided map board (the biggest yet), two rule books and 120 cards; plus 16 plastic train pieces and a few wooden counters for the Japan map. As with all the map expansions, the new components are specific to the corresponding map. These aren’t modular or otherwise expansive: nothing here can also be used on older maps.

Italy

The Italy map has some cards that link out of Italy to neighbouring countries. This works in the same way as it does on the Switzerland map (for those who are familiar with that). But without the problems that map has. The country cards are way less frequent and often prove risky, rather than being easy points. For example, there is only one way into France in a two/three player game – but two route cards that go there.

Italy is split into 17 regions. Players count how many they’ve visited and everyone gets a related end-game bonus. This feels less of a blunt instrument than the usual ‘longest route’ bonus many maps employ, which can feel particularly overpowered in a two-player game. Here. all players are rewarded for all the regions reached.

There’s also a ferry mechanism that works differently from previous maps, adding a new type of card required to complete them. Two ferry cards are available to each player and taking one takes a turn (like taking a face-up wild card). A single ferry card accounts for two spaces on a ferry route. However, they can only be used for the specifically marked spots (wild cards can also be used for these ferry spaces, but at one card per space).

Japan

Japan feels the more adventurous in terms of ideas. It has two metro systems included as boxouts on the main map. These are accessed via stations on the main map (Tokyo and Kokura), giving added focus to those locations. But the far bigger innovation is the bullet train. Players start with just 20 trains in their own colour, alongside a shared stock of 16 bullet train pieces. Bullet train routes are specifically marked, and can be built by anyone. But they’re a shared resource, helping everyone complete their routes.

And someone has to build them, because the game end condition is different to other maps. There must only be 0-2 bullet trains left, as well as a player being down to 0-2 trains. You don’t even score normal points for completing them, instead marking how many cards you spent for each route on a separate bullet train tracker. And yup, you guessed it. Whoever makes the biggest contribution to the bullet train gets a healthy end game bonus. While not contributing at all, or less than others, can get you negative points. This is a return to the blunt instrument bonuses. But at least it is easily/deliberately trackable.

How much does it change the game?

The Italy map is certainly the safer of the two. But that’s no criticism. The region scoring doesn’t seem to add much, but gives you something to think about late game. I really appreciate this on several maps, especially Pennsylvania. It’s nice to have a genuine alternative to taking late tickets/rushing the game end. The ferry cards also add more than may be immediately apparent. Just taking one sends a message – I’m building a ferry. These routes are often massive, so help fuel the paranoia that really makes Ticket to Ride sing.

Japan’s metros don’t add much, seeming more of a necessity to make the map work. The bullet train is a much bigger deal. It makes you think differently, adding a bit of a TransAmerica vibe to the mix. Where do you simply have to build using your own trains? Is anyone going to help you out? And how is the game going to end? The change in end game rules also makes it tougher for a player to rush the end game. However, as with any big departure, it won’t be for everyone. It doesn’t feel like a different game – but it’s not far off.

Is Ticket to Ride Japan & Italy value for money?

At around £30, picking up one of these map collections is no small investment. The board is massive, and gorgeous. While the cards and pieces are high quality. I’d say you’re getting value, even if you compare this to what you’d get in a £30 new game box.

Is it essential?

None of these map collections are essential, but do what they say on the tin. They add longevity to a game you love but that perhaps needs a refresh. Or, with Ticket to Ride, a game you like but that needs a little spark to take it to the next level. It is easy to get a little bored with the base game, especially when playing with lower player counts. And you have to remember Ticket to Ride has a longer reach than most hobby games. It’s the kind of game a lot of households will have as part of a very small collection. Meaning it may hit the table a lot more regularly than it would in a gamer household with bulging shelves.

Instead, it makes sense to judge this against other map collections. By average rating on Board Game Geek, it is (at time of writing) only behind the UK/Pennsylvania collection. That’s a great set, but more suitable for more advanced players. The Japan & Italy collection is better for less gamery players. And, unlike some, is great with two players. Both maps play well at low player counts, which is a strong selling point. Both sides also seem to play a little faster than the base game, which may/may not be a win for your group.

… and does Ticket to Ride Japan & Italy fit in the original Ticket to Ride box?

I’m going to say no. But only because I’m a fan of the base game’s insert. And because I like to have the various expansion boxes on the shelves. This is rare for me. I’m usually happy binning the expansion boxes to save space. Especially for games which are definite keepers. But I make an exception for Ticket to Ride.

So, to be factually correct, you could fit this expansion in the original box. While the map is bigger it still folds down to a similar size. And beyond that, the extra components hardly take up any space. So if you’re tight for space, and are happy throwing away the original insert, yes – it will fit. Even if you keep the insert it would kind of fit – you just won’t be able to close the lid properly (see below). But what kind of savages are you people…?

* Thanks to Days of Wonder (via Asmodee UK) for providing a copy for review.
* Follow this link for 200+ more of my board game reviews.