Ticket To Ride: Rails & Sails Review - Around The World In 80+ Minutes!

It's no surprise that I like Ticket To Ride, it was on my Top 100 and I own almost all the expansion maps for it. I don't get to play them all very much I admit, but I love using this as a great gateway game to conscript. . . err I mean bring in new players to the hobby.

Slowly but surely new mechanisms have found their way into the game through expansions with the pinnacle of achievement falling to the United Kingdom map (no bias I assure you) which is definitely the most complex of the expansion maps, but also in my opinion, the best one of the lot. So when Rails & Sails was announced as a new base set with added complexities like ships, wrap-around maps, harbours, etc. I wondered how much further they would dare to go to add more mechanisms to a gateway game.

Of course, being Ticket To Ride I was keen to get stuck in and find out what's what, but there were a couple of statistics that first raised concerns. How much? How long?

Designer: Alan R. Moon
Publisher: Days of Wonder
Age: 8+
Players: 2-5
Time: 90-120 minutes
RRP: £64.99

On To New Horizons

From Board Game Geek:

Ticket to Ride: Rails & Sails takes the familiar gameplay of Ticket to Ride and expands it across the globe — which means that you'll be moving across water, of course, and that's where the sails come in.
As in other Ticket to Ride games, in Ticket to Ride: Rails & Sails players start with tickets in hand that show two cities, and over the course of the game they try to collect colored cards, then claim routes on the game board with their colored train and ship tokens, scoring points while doing so. When any player has six or fewer tokens in their supply, each player takes two more turns, then the game ends. At that point, if they've created a continuous path between the two cities on a ticket, then they score the points on that ticket; if not, then they lose points instead.
Ticket to Ride: Rails & Sails puts a few twists on the TtR formula, starting with split card decks of trains and ships (with all of the wild cards going in the train deck). Three cards of each type are revealed at the start of the game, and when you draw cards, you replace them with a card from whichever deck you like. (Shuffle the card types separately to form new decks when needed.)
Similarly, players choose their own mix of train and ship tokens at the start of the game. To claim a train route (rectangular spaces), you must play train cards (or wilds) and cover those spaces with train tokens, and to claim a ship route (oval spaces), you must play ship cards (or wilds) and cover those spaces with ship tokens. Ship cards depict one or two ships on them, and when you play a double-ship card, you can cover one or two ship spaces. You can take an action during play to swap train tokens for ships (or vice versa), and you lose one point for each token you swap.
Some tickets show tour routes with multiple cities instead of simply two cities. If you build a network that matches the tour exactly, you score more points than if you simply include all of those cities in your network.

Each player also starts the game with three harbors. If you have built a route to a port city, you can take an action during the game to place a harbor in that city (with a limit of one harbor per port). To place the harbor, you must discard two train cards and two ship cards of the same color, all of which must bear the harbor symbol (an anchor). At the end of the game, you lose four points for each harbor not placed, and you gain 10-40 points for each placed harbor depending on how many of your completed tickets show that port city.
Ticket to Ride: Rails & Sails includes a double-sided game board, with one side showing the world and the other side showing the Great Lakes of North America. Players start with a differing number of cards and tokens depending on which side they play, and each side has a few differences in gameplay.

Travelling in First Class

Not that you need much convincing, but when Days of Wonder produce a game, it will always look good. And here you've got a ton of plastic in the form of trains and boats to boot. The travel cards all feature a refined illusration and both sides of the board look bright and colourful. You won't really be making comparisons between versions as they all look good, but at least the trend continues here, though if I'm not mistaken, the plastic used on the trains and ships is thinner than the original.

It certainly has to be said that this is not a cheap version of Ticket To Ride. The RRP is £64.99, which is a lot for a family game and may elevate this outside the range for many to afford. It's not to say you don't get a lot for the money, but it comes at a high price for all that plastic and glossy colour. Compare this to the £64.99 price of the 10th Anniversary Edition, which I actually own, which gave you the best looking board of the range and custom plastic trains on top of that.

So Cutthroat We Might As Well Be On Pirate Ships

Gameplay feels quite different from the other versions. Your decisions each turn are certainly more important when it comes to your hand management as you have two types of routes to consider. You'll need to plan a little further ahead as to what routes you're doing, but of course this is Ticket To Ride so since when do plans always go as expected? The tickets are your standard affair although the new "tour" additions I really like where you have to line up cities in a particular order.

Rails & Sails ranks up with the most cut-throat of maps alongside Nordic Countries and Africa. With a high player count it's very easy to get blocked off your route and here the consequences can be catastrophic especially if it happens in the early game. That may appeal to some out there who like that and I don't mind it, but to be screwed over early on when the player doesn't actively know they're doing it is a real downer when you consider the extended time length which I'll go into more later.

If you thought the UK emphasised wild cards, you've seen nothing yet. Here they are borderline essential especially if you're doing to be aiming to complete a harbour. in other versions of Ticket To Ride the wild cards tended to hang around for a while in the display, but now you can't even see the fingers grabbing at them when they show up, it's almost an auto-pilot decision to grab them when you see them. What is odd however is that there's no 4 to 1 exchange rate for them like the UK map had. That was the perfect balancing mechanism and yet it's been left out here despite making wilds even more important.

All of these things combine to make clear that this is a different kettle of fish to the original Ticket to Ride and as such I will say that this should not be taught as a gateway game to someone just getting into Ticket to Ride. Start with a different base set and work your way up.

Come To The UK, You'll Enjoy It

Ticket To Ride appeals to me because it's a simply family game that can be played in less than an hour. Even my favourite map, the United Kingdom can be finished in less than an hour yet is definitely the one I pull out for "gamers". But Rails & Sails will at bare minimum take you 90 minutes to play and at times can clock 2 hours. That's just far too long for most families as children won't have that kind of attention span and a lot of that comes from the increased planning of routes as well as the admin burden of having to flip the different cards and manage two decks.

So that makes Rails & sails more tuned for gamers, but like I said, we already have the United Kingdom, which achieves the art of adding complexity without adding length admirably, so why do you need Rails & Sails if only because you have to now deal with ships as well as trains and plan your routes more?

Half of Everything Is Luck, The Other Half. . . Also Luck

The biggest debate over Rails & Sails from reviewers and players alike is the luck factor. We all know that Ticket To Ride is fundamentally based on luck because you're drawing cards from a deck, most of the time from the top of it and therefore drawing exactly what you need or "free" wilds is going to have a big impact on your progress. But it's a simple family game and you do have choices, that's what makes it good.

With Rails & Sails that luck factor has been pushed up further and I think to a level where it's going to be unacceptable for many. People have debated long on both sides whether it's too much or just fine and it's an interesting read even if some points raised don't make sense, but here's my thoughts on why I side with the "unacceptable" argument.

Firstly some claim that the ability to manipulate the travel cards showing reduces the luck factor. That doesn't make any sense. Think about it, yes you can directly screw other players so there's more interaction, but what will that other player do in that situation? Obviously they'll draw from the top of the deck more often, which means they're hoping for a lucky draw and if they pull it off, it's a huge boost. Given that wild cards are so critical to success here and you've no means to exchange for them like in the UK map, getting free ones off the deck is huge. Also note that you have cards with two ships on them. They're twice as good as single ones so if you're fortunate enough to draw them you can get sea routes done much faster. I don't see why double ship cards were even put in the game, just reduce the number of ships needed to complete a route.

Secondly we don't mind luck in games, but usually those games are short and over with quickly so that a run of bad luck doesn't hold anyone back for too long. Rails & Sails is a 90-120 minute Euro game and in those instances you don't want more luck, you want less or at least more ways to mitigate it. Here however, it's simply adding more luck alongside more time, which is a huge put-off for me. I enjoy playing Ticket to Ride for its simple mechanics and accessibility, but that doesn't mean I want to play it for the same length of time as a heavy Euro!

Thirdly we have the harbours. They are hard to complete, but my word the points you gain/lose from these is astronomical, game changing in fact. If you draw tickets which lead into the same harbour, you're laughing providing someone doesn't screw you out of it early on and at that stage, they won't even realise they're doing it. You may just draw exactly what you need and earn a bucket of points compared to someone else, they're that swingy.

Verdict on Ticket To Ride: Rails & Sails

I feel a bit let down by Rails & Sails. There's stuff to like and dislike throughout, but some of the issues present really are that big given the high price tag. Firstly this is twice the length of any Ticket to Ride game done previously and that's a long time to be relying on mechanics which actually increase the luck factor from previous iterations. On top of that the potential to be easily screwed out of your route or simply "get it good" when going for harbours makes the experience very swingy.

The discussion on the luck factor will be very subjective and I think that's going to be your dominant influence on whether you enjoy Rails & Sails or not. As much as the game looks as great as ever and has increased the complexity, I just can't see myself wanting to play this over the United Kingdom map which is my go-to map for gamers and yet despite the added complexity doesn't increase the game length drastically. That map pack was a huge leap forward in design, whereas I feel Rails & Sails is a step back. Consider what's been said and make your own decision, but for that cost I'd rather buy more map packs.


You want more complexity in your Ticket To Ride experience.

You're an avid collector of all the map packs and want to add more.

You love the cut-throat aspect.


You enjoyed Ticket To Ride for the quick simplicity and feel it's too long now.

You don't like luck playing a huge part in the game - it's elevated here.

You feel the price tag is a lot for a Ticket To Ride game.