We’re gonna need a bigger boat!
Have you ever looked at your copy of ticket to ride and thought “damn it, this game needs some boats”? No, I can’t say I have either but I was pretty interested to find out whether this is something that would work, and if so, how?
Ticket to Ride is one of the best gateway games ever to have been made so I was really curious to see whether Rails and Sails had the same brand of broad appeal that the original has. I tried to sneak a game in while I was at Insomnia 58 since it was being demonstrated by Esdevium but it turned out to be a Rails and Sails free weekend. So, I have liberated myself a copy to review for your reading pleasure (and my playing pleasure).
Rails and Sails: the clue is in the title!
First things first, I feel that I should mention the differences between Rails and Sails and Ticket to Ride Prime. Firstly, obviously there are the ships. Hard to have sails without anything to attach them to. (I guess that would make them kites… very very big kites). As such, instead of having your impressive bag of trains, you have 2 bags: one full of trains and one full of ships. However, you have to leave some of these tokens in the box, which is quite a clever mechanism – but more on this later.
The second huge difference between the two games, is the board. On one side of Rails and Sails is the American Great Lakes, and the other is a map of the World (with some really odd port choices on it… I mean who knew Edinburgh was a massive port city). The board itself is around the same size as the normal ticket to ride though, so if you have enough space for that, then you’re all set for Rails and Sails too.
The last glaringly obvious change in Rails and Sails is the addition of Harbour tokens. If you meet the stipulations for them, they can be placed on any port city that you have a route in to and will net you some serious extra points at the end if you play them wisely. But, to be able to place one, you need to have 2 train cards, 2 ship cards, (both of which need to have port symbols on) and they all need to be the same colour… not the easiest task to complete, but worthwhile if you manage it.
Playing With My Trains
The setup of Rails and Sails is pretty similar to Ticket to Ride prime. You get 2 train cards and 2 boat cards as your starting hand, and you’re also given 5 tickets. You have to keep at least 3 of the tickets and aim to complete them before the game is out. The ones I have pictured are from the Great Lakes side of Rails and Sails; obviously the world ones are different and supplied separately.
One you have your tickets, you also receive your bags of tokens. There are 33 trains and 32 boats but of these, you can only keep 50 in total. So, you need to look at your tickets very carefully and ensure that you’re not going to run out of one or the other before completing your routes. This adds a level of self-imposed strategy and you have to ensure that you make the right decision early on or it could come back and bite you in the behind much later on in the game. That being said, you can sacrifice points to swap your tokens for the ones which were placed back in the box, but as with many games, every point counts at the end!
The way in which the card flop is handled is also slightly different and is another place where (if you’re so inclined – and I really am) you can mess with your opponents. The flop starts with 3 each train and boat cards, but once one has been taken, it can be replaced with whichever card you wish. This means that if you know for sure that your opponents really need a ship card, you can aim to get the flop completely full of train cards. Just because you know you can, and it would be hideously annoying.
The way the actual game plays once you have a handle on the small changes is really much the same Ticket to Ride that everyone has come to know and love. You exchange your cards of the same colour to place a route on the map, only with the choice in this game of boats or trains.
Harbour-ing a scoring opportunity
Although I have briefly touched on it already, the harbours make a big difference in rails and sails at the end of the game. There is a small pressure to try and get yours out on the board as you’re penalised 4 points per unused harbour at the end of the game, but most people will want to get them out anyway.
If you place a harbour on a route which has one of your ticket destinations leading through it, you get a pretty healthy 10 point bonus. Great! If you manage to get 2 routes through the harbour, 20 points. Even better! Also, if you’re sneaky/agile enough to get 3 tickets through the same harbour then that’s an additional 30 points per harbour. As I’m sure you can imagine, this can make or break a game and I managed to net myself an additional 70 points at the end of my first game which blew my opponent out of the water.
Quality to write home about?
I don’t think that quality has ever been an issue with the ticket to ride series, and rails and sails is no exception to this. The “miniatures” of the boats and trains have been cast exceptionally well and don’t have any small nicks that you sometimes get when things have been cast badly. The harbours are also the same and look much like they’re meant to.
The board is sturdy (perhaps a little more so than the original) and the side with the world on looks really impressive, but the side with the great lakes on… well, not quite so much. I wonder whether the usual graphic designer was on holiday and they got some poor lad on day release from college to come and finish it.
Look at it… it almost looks like a really dull poker table or something put together by Bob Ross’ dog.
The cards are of good quality and are a little easier to handle when you manage to collect a ridiculous amount. They’re a pretty nice linen finish and whilst it’s not really my cup of tea, they all seem to have ended up in some pastel colours. Viva La 1980’s!
Does Rails and Sails stand up to its predecessors?
Now this is a really good question, and one which took me some real thinking to answer.
There are some things I really don’t like about it. I found that keeping 2 sets of cards in my hand was really fiddly, not because you’re gaining more cards than you would solely with trains as I think the amount is around the same, but because the cards look way too similar. I managed to set myself up for failure in a turn because I actually tried to play a ship card as a train card and didn’t notice.
Whilst the opportunity to score a bundle of points at the end of the game is usually a welcome one for me, I think that the addition of the harbours just seems to have been stuck on as the product of a “what can we do to make Rails and Sails different” brainstorming session; and the fact that you’re penalised at the end if you either elect or don’t get the opportunity to use them is just a bit unnecessary for me.
That being said, there are some good things about Rails and Sails too. The fact that you have some variety out of the box as to places you can play is fantastic. We played the great lakes in under an hour and the world in just over an hour so it didn’t feel too much like hard work.
Also, it is still the usual fun to play, and having a much better opportunity to circumvent any places that you have been blocked by land by just making a route across the water is actually quite relieving on occasion, and there’s quite a lot of satisfaction to be had if you manage to finish a ticket by sneaking it in across the water.
That, and the introduction of the fact you can’t keep all of your tokens is something really unusual which can give you pause to think about what you’re doing.
Rails and Sails does not seem to have the sense of urgency and impending doom that the original has. If someone blocked your path to a destination in Ticket to Ride then you had to start feverishly looking for another way around to save you being penalised a large amount of points at the end, but since you can sneak across the water in Rails and Sails you don’t need to worry too much.
The other thing that Rails and Sails seems to have lost is the scale on the player count. You can play any of the other Ticket to Ride games with as little as 2 players, but you cannot do so here. If you play with 2 then you may as well be playing solo for all of the interaction you’ll have. For me, Rails and sails is a 4 player minimum game just to keep it interesting and to keep the sense of urgency that I loved about the others.
I think that the addition of boats into the mix was a good and innovative idea and it adds something that Ticket to Ride didn’t have. But is it something that it really needed? Probably not, but I am glad that Days of Wonder are still trying new things.
Rails and Sails is a game that I am glad I have played. I am still undecided whether it’s a game I will keep or gift on to someone and I think it needs a few more plays before the proof is in the pudding.
I honestly cannot say it’s a bad game, but I honestly cannot say it’s a good game either. For once I’m sat right on the fence about a game.
Marks out of 10?
Since I find myself quite ambivalent about Rails and Sails, I’ll have to give it a 7 steaming steamers out of 10. It’s worth owning and it’s the marmite of Ticket to Ride games. You’ll love it or hate it.
If you’re wondering what Days of Wonder have planned for the future you can find out here:
If you’re interested in what the Geeks at large had to say about rails and sails you can check out it’s BGG page here:
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I am just a regular guy that fell into board gaming. That's why I am no longer allowed in my local Toys R Us. I'm a huge fan of deckbuilding games and games with unusual themes or mechanics. OK, maybe I'm not that regular after all.