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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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… 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…?

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Originally posted at Punch Board Media