Ticket to Ride is a phenomenon. The original board game achieved the unthinkable, breaking out of nerd space and into the almost unassailable world of family board game fun and supermarket shelves, selling millions of copies in the process. Along the way, it’s spawned a whole host of different versions and expansions, becoming a mini-industry in its own right. This latest iteration, Ticket to Ride Legacy: Legends of the West is a whole new spin on the concept, creating a campaign of rail building which lasts across twelve games, with changes from the previous game carrying on into the next.
What’s in the Box
Ticket to Ride: Legends of the West comes in a truly massive box, especially compared to previous Ticket to Ride games. Sadly, we’re not allowed to tell you very much about the contents because most of it is closed away in individual boxes which you open as you progress through the game. We’re going to try and avoid spoilers in this review, although there might be one or two very minor ones for your first play, so we’re not going to talk about what’s inside.
What you are allowed to open and sort will be familiar to fans of the series. There are bags of plastic trains in five different colors, each with its own design. There are decks of ticket and train cards with all-new art, which you separate and file with dividers in a supplied box that lets you store new components as they’re revealed. The graphic design on all the components fits in with the classic Ticket to Ride look and feel while giving it a fresh, Western-themed twist.
Other aspects are fresh, even to veteran players. The board isn’t fold-out any more, but a jigsaw affair that you piece together, allowing you to add pieces as your rail lines extend out into the frontiers of the wild west. There’s also a whole new deck called postcards, which are a key engine in adding new aspects to the game as you play through, although how they work isn’t explained until the end of your first session.
Rules and How It Plays
The core gameplay loop of Ticket to Ride Legacy: Legends of the West will be familiar to fans of the franchise. On most of your turns you’ll be collecting colored train cards either blind from the deck or from a face-up selection. Your aim is to get a set that matches the colour and length of a train route printed on the board, which you can then claim by playing the cards and putting your colored plastic train pieces down on the spaces. The final action is to take tickets, cards which you hold in secret, and indicate cities on the board that you’ll want to connect with routes to earn bonus points. Failing to connect the cities on one of your tickets means you lose the points rather than gain them.
There’s a good reason why these core concepts have remained unchanged, and that’s because they’re a brilliant, addictive mix that have sustained the series through over a dozen spin-offs and expansions. Hunting for the cards you need through the face-up and face-down selection is filled with frustration, anticipation, and joy when you find the final piece. Claiming routes is always thrilling, as you wait to see if one of the other players will sneak in before you, forcing you to try and route around. Spotting someone else’s likely destination and blocking them on purpose is supremely satisfying. It’s a family-weight tactical delight, full of excitement and skill in equal measure, and it’s as fun here as it’s ever been.
Of course, given the radical nature of changing the formula into a campaign game, there are lots of new aspects to explore. You now earn money rather than points and there are no default dollars in claiming routes like the original. Instead, you get two dollars for claiming a route that matches your player color, and a bonus card if one of the cities connected has a large city icon. The number of train pieces you play with starts small and increases as the campaign goes on. The train deck has several newspaper cards in it that mean an event is revealed when drawn, with effects like offering a small bonus to players who’ve completed tickets early. Learning and anticipating possible events provides a minor extra strategic plank to the play.
However, the main engines of novelty here are the story and postcard decks. The former contains cards that are read at before and after each game in the series, offering a rather silly, faux-historical narrative framework to enjoy and sometimes some new rules to incorporate. Postcards can be collected after the first game by completing certain tickets, giving an additional frisson to players who manage to finish, or to fail, those tickets. Each postcard offers a reward to its owner for achieving its listed objective. These objectives sometimes tie in with mechanics not yet revealed by the story deck, which can get marginally confusing.
As the campaign progresses, some new elements also introduce additional mechanics and mini-games for the players to compete in. We’re not going to offer any more detail for fear of spoilers, but suffice to say that these are hugely imaginative and enjoyable, offering all sorts of clever twists and turns on the core concepts of the series while not overwhelming players with new rules. Some are more tactical or strategic than others, but they’re all great fun. The mini-games offer you new ways to score points, some of which are independent of the main board, while others will change that board permanently and impact future games. All of them are a delight to open and explore, giving a thrill of anticipation to each new element.
As you might be beginning to glean, completing the campaign is central to Ticket to Ride Legacy: Legends of the West. At the beginning you’re given a box in your player color in which you store components you need to keep between games and also a scoresheet to record your profits at the end of each play. When you’ve completed 12 games, you add up those profits, plus extras from mini-games and stored cards, to find an overall winner. This ultimate thrill comes with a price, however, which is that it’s unsatisfying for players to drop in and out between sessions if they can’t make it. There are rules to cover this, but they’re a little awkward, and you’ll get the most out of your campaign if the same group of players can be present at every game.
The original legacy campaign game, based on Risk, felt daringly transgressive with its instructions to tear up cards and scrawl on the board. The fashion has moved on to more “resettable” campaigns, but Ticket to Ride: Legacy sees you making permanent changes, resulting in a version of the game that’s unique to you. While it’s good to see this back, those changes feel less personal than they did in the earliest legacy games, and some of the mini-games are gone forever once they’re over. So it’s questionable how often your group might continue playing once the twelve games are up.