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Reviews - Ticket to Ride: Alvin & Dexter
 
by Lee Valentine


TTR: Alvin & Dexter boxAlvin & Dexter - A Ticket to Ride Monster expansion
Published by Days of Wonder
Designed by Alan R. Moon
Contents: 2 detailed plastic monster figures, 40 Monster cards, 2 bonus cards, rules booklet
$13.00

Alvin & Dexter (A&D) is the newest Ticket to Ride (TTR) expansion. It is a set of two plastic figures, one a Godzilla-styled dinosaur called "Dexter" and one an alien with a spaceship called "Alvin". They are usable with any TTR board game set, and they sow chaos across the board in the cities they pass through. Originally envisioned as a Godzilla variant for a Japanese version of TTR that never came to pass, TTR-designer Alan Moon did some additional work on the concept, added an alien, and brought the world A&D.

Gameplay
Alvin and Dexter are placed on the board at the end of setup. One monster of your choice can be moved as an additional action at the end of your turn by discarding one or two locomotive wild cards from your hand. If you discard one locomotive the monster can be moved one to three cities away; discard two and he can be moved up to six cities away.

Alvin cardThere are two decks of small cards marked "Alvin" and "Dexter" respectively. You collect the appropriate card when you move a monster. Until the end of your next turn neither you nor any other player may move that monster. At the end of the game you count how many "Alvin" and "Dexter" cards you have, separating each type. The player with the most cards of a given type at the end of the game scores a 15-point bonus. Tied players each get the bonus. So, Alvin and Dexter can collectively contribute a 30-point swing to the game, giving you an enormous incentive to pay attention to them, particularly in TTR variants that lack long route destination tickets to drive the score up.

During the game, while a monster is at a given city you can't build depots (TTR: Europa 1912), move passengers through the city (TTR: Marklin), or build stations there (TTR: Europe). Also, you can lay down trains on a new route if either of the end points have a monster on them. These cities are "cities in chaos". At the end of the game if you have any destination tickets and either end point is a "city in chaos" the ticket is worth only half the normal number of points for you (if you complete it) or against you (if you failed to complete it).

If you are playing a TTR edition that has long route destination tickets, toward the end of the game players will probably drive the monsters to the end points of one of those routes to try to cost an opponent as many points as possible. During the game, they can be easily used to hound an opponent by merely sitting on the last city he built a route to, as many players build their routes sequentially.

Dexter cardIn TTR and TTR: Europe picking a face up locomotive costs you both your draws for the turn. Still, you will make this sacrifice frequently because of the in game incentives to do so while playing with A&D. Since the locomotives in TTR: Switzerland, TTR: Nordic Countries, and to a lesser extent in TTR: Marklin (with its special +4 locomotives) all cost you only a single draw, picking up these cards will become an automatic reflex.

The dual use of locomotives both as wildcards and as movement cards for the monsters in A&D will make claiming tunnels (in TTR: Switzerland and TTR: Nordic Countries) more difficult. The demand for locomotives can be at such a premium that claiming ferry routes (in TTR: Nordic Countries and TTR: Europe) will be difficult or impossible if you are also trying to compete for the 30 monster bonus points available, since ferry routes require you to play locomotives to claim them.

Given this prejudice against ferry routes, A&D can be somewhat disruptive to the normal play experience in TTR: Europe and probably for TTR: Nordic Countries as well. Entire sections of the TTR: Europe game board, for example, become undesirable to choose as tickets. If you get a handful of them, you'll either have to complete the route or control the monsters, but you probably won't be able to do both very well. This will be even more true when playing with three to five players because the locomotives will be spread out a bit thinner among all the players, and they will be getting selected more often than in normal TTR: Europe.

I suspect that the best set to use A&D with is the base TTR board, and ideally with the USA 1910 expansion cards. The "Big Cities" variant in the USA 1910 expansion would provide interesting strategic options for using the monsters, without the prejudice against ferries and tunnels (since there aren't either one of these on the USA board). Even without the USA 1910 expansion, this will be a nice addition to the base TTR board, particularly for two players.

Alvin figureWith more than two players A&D introduces an obvious strategy that is difficult to employ in a normal TTR game: all the other players can gang up on the scoring leader. Consider that, in a five-player game, the locomotives are split five ways. The score leader will, on average, have only 1/5 of the overall locomotives, and can be easily hounded by the monsters if the other players agree to gang up on him. Even without this expansion it is possible to collude against the leader, but it is a trivial undertaking to do so with this expansion, as it only minimally interferes with your own turns.

Even with two players, while the A&D expansion adds a new, interesting layer of strategy, it also adds a lot of chaos. Given that the mechanic is locomotive card driven, it's entirely possible that I draw substantially more locomotives than you, and get an easy 30 points, controlling both monsters. Indeed, that is exactly what happened in one game we played.

This expansion has another odd side effect when played with TTR versions where drawing a face-up locomotive costs you both of your draws – you may avoid drawing face up trains if you can, particularly in two-player play. Since many players will want every locomotive they can get their hands on, if you draw a normal train from the face up stack then there's a chance that it will get replaced by a locomotive which your opponent will acquire for himself. While this is not enough to stifle taking face up cards altogether, it changes the normal balance of power between face up draws and blind draws from the train deck sufficiently that drawing blind will become substantially more useful than normal.

Components
Alvin and Dexter are both ivory colored plastic miniatures. Each is approximately two inches tall. The models are quite detailed and eye catching. Each monster sits atop a small train station. While the building itself has no game impact, and is included for thematic reasons, it does have an unintended side effect, since it is smaller than the monster that's on top of it. The models are both quite top heavy and have a tendency to fall over if your table is not level or if you handle the miniatures incautiously. Fortunately, I became aware of this design limitation prior to play so that the miniatures did not fall over very often during our games.

Dexter figureThe cards that come with the game are small, square cards. They are full-color and have a nice linen finish. They are handled only minimally during play, so they will see little wear during use.

The packaging itself is very colorful, and shows whimsical, full-color art of the monsters attacking trains. The plastic insert that holds the creatures will likely make sure that your monsters arrive to you intact. Unfortunately, the insert grips the figures a bit too tightly, and it can be troublesome to extract the miniatures. As a result, the packaging is sub-optimal for storing the miniatures if you intend on using this expansion regularly. Thankfully, the contents of the expansion are small enough to fit inside a typical TTR game box if you choose not to store the expansion separately.

The rulebook is largely clear. Like the rest of the expansion, it is quite tiny. The text is brief, and is available in a variety of European languages. Unfortunately, Alan Moon did not directly address how Alvin & Dexter interacts with depots, stations, and passengers, in the various TTR game editions. Given that this expansion was intended to work with all TTR editions, this is a substantial oversight. Nevertheless, Moon has provided guidance on this in online forums, stating that the monsters do not destroy pre-existing depots, stations, and passengers, but the monsters do prevent any new structures from being built in "cities in chaos". Passengers similarly cannot travel through such cities.

Conclusions
For a modest expansion, Alvin & Dexter can really shake up your normal TTR games quite a lot. This expansion allows for some expanded player-versus-player "take that" action and added chaos. Particularly with TTR: Switzerland and TTR: Nordic Countries, where locomotives are relatively cheaper to draw, the chaotic effects of the A&D expansion will be more pronounced. With some sets like TTR: Europe, A&D makes acquiring certain routes so difficult that some players may feel the two simply do not mix well together. Still, if you know what you are getting into and want to add a bit of chaos to your TTR games, Alvin & Dexter may be a worthwhile expansion for you.

For Retailers
The MSRP is low, the packaging is attractive, and the box features a clear window to view both figures. Overall, this product takes up little shelf space and is priced for an impulse buy. It is novel enough that many TTR players (at least those that aren't purists) will be curious about the product. While the small size of the product makes it easy to find shelf space for it, it's also small enough that it could go missed on a big shelf of TTR products. Store a copy or two next to your other TTR products, but keep the rest of these near your register if you don't have a "newly arrived items" shelf, because this product would be easy to miss otherwise. It's definitely worth picking up a few copies of this if TTR sells at all well for your store.

Lee's Ratings:
Overall: B
Gameplay: B (perhaps as high as A- for two players with the TTR: USA 1910 "Big Cities" variant)
Components: A- (great minis and cards, but the minis are top heavy and topple occasionally)
Rules Clarity: B (what's there is good, but it's missing some simple key rules that are required for play)
Packaging: B+ (great for long term storage, but it is not ideal if you use this expansion often and store it in its original packaging)
Retailer Salability: B

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